Binge drinking is one of the most dangerous forms of alcohol consumption. Most people assume getting drunk on occasion is okay, but drinking in excess can have lasting consequences and ill-health effects.
Binge drinking is classified as any excessive drinking that results in blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) of .08 g/dL and higher achieved in any two-hour span.
Typically when we think of binge drinking, we’re reminded of college drinking games, but 70% of people who drink in excess are 26 years and older with an annual household income of more than $75,000. Those who binge drink are not necessarily alcohol-dependent, though it is an easy pathway toward dependency.
More than 38 million people in the United States engage in binge drinking on a monthly basis. They often erroneously assume drinking heavily a few times per month is harmless. These are social drinkers, participating in binge drinking on weekends or other occasions. They’re mostly professionals, more often men, who consume larger quantities of alcohol in shorter durations, hence the term “binge.”
To achieve a BAC of .08 g/dL or higher, the typical male would need to ingest five alcoholic beverages in the period of two hours. For women to achieve that same toxicity, they would need to consume four or more drinks. This is assuming beer or wine is consumed. Fewer drinks may generate a higher BAC, if higher concentrations of alcohol are present.
The Burden Of Binge Drinking
Binge drinking is associated with auto-related accidents and high rates of head traumas, crimes, including physical and sexual assault, and fetal alcohol syndrome and related spectrum disorder in fetuses of pregnant women. As a result, the estimated cost of binge drinking in terms of loss of productivity and related health issues in the United States is in excess of billions of dollars annually.
Side Effects Of Binge Drinking
Consequences of binge drinking include higher rates of suicide, unplanned pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases as well as negative health side effects including:
- Alcohol poisoning
- Liver disease
- Cardiovascular issues
- Brain damage
- Sexual dysfunction
A National Institutes of Health study indicated a single incident of binge drinking can generate a leaky gut, increasing concentrations of bacteria in the bloodstream, and triggering an immune response. Ongoing binge drinking can create a more permanent state of gut permeability, increasing stress on the body’s immune system and leading to long-term health issues including chronic infections and liver disease.
Studies also indicate the younger a person begins engaging in binge drinking, the more likely they are to suffer from alcohol-dependency later in life. Rates of suicide among youth who engage in binge drinking are four times higher than those who do not consume alcohol.
Binge Drinking And The Brain
Alcohol-dependent persons who do not engage in binge drinking, suffer ongoing adverse health issues including damage to the brain and central nervous system. Alcoholism is the result of a changing of the brain over an extended period of exposure to alcohol. During this process, part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, responsible for regulating behavior, becomes disabled. This usually occurs in late stages of alcohol addiction, but in recent studies examining binge drinking, this shutting down of the decision-making part of the brain occurs faster than seen in moderate drinkers.
In one such experiment, scientists examined the effects of binge drinking on laboratory animals. They divided the experiment into two groups. The first group contained rats who were given limited access to alcohol (two to three times per week) and the second group contained rats with free access to alcohol for the duration of the experiment. What scientists quickly discovered was that rats with limited access to alcohol rapidly developed withdrawal symptoms, whereas the control group with unlimited access, did not.
This indicates that in humans, where consumption of alcohol may be limited by social factors or other constraints, a craving can develop. Rather than drink moderately, binge drinkers seek the dopamine rush and euphoria associated with alcohol consumption. After a few drinks, the reasoning part of the brain, the frontal cortex, is compromised, and they continue to drink in excess.
Whether drinking alcohol regularly for a longer duration or binge drinking periodically, alcohol dependency can develop.
Recognizing The Signs
You may be engaging in binge drinking if you consume alcohol to get drunk or drink semi-regularly in short bursts of four or more alcoholic beverages in an hour or two at least one time per month. This does not necessarily make you alcohol-dependent. Alcohol addiction occurs when you are no longer able to stop drinking and your body has become physically- or psychologically-dependent on the drug. However, as the study suggests, it is easy to see where binge drinking can quickly lead to alcohol dependency.
Even if you are only engaging in excessive drinking once a month, long-term physical effects may significantly impair your ability to live the life you want to live. If you find that once you start drinking, you can’t stop, it may be time to seek help. AlcoholTreatment.net can connect you with a person or program best suited to meet your needs. Contact in confidence today.