Binge drinking is the most common and costly pattern of alcohol consumption in the United States, and it’s also entirely preventable.
Although it does not always lead to alcoholism, this phenomenon is damaging in myriad ways.
Data from the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH 2020) shows that half of all over-12s in the United States are current drinkers. Among these 138.5 million people, 61.6 million reported binge drinking in the previous month. We see here a slight decline from the 65.8 million people who reported binge drinking in the NSDUH 2019.
More disturbingly, of those who binge drink, 17.7 million people are considered heavy drinkers. NIAAA defines heavy drinking as follows:
- Men: Consuming 4 or more alcoholic drinks in any day or consuming more than 14 alcoholic drinks per week.
- Women: Consuming 3 or more alcoholic drinks in any day or consuming more than 7 alcoholic drinks per week.
Rates of binge drinking have increased substantially in general over the past year, and are even higher among college students. The same data shows that fully one-third of college students report binge drinking at least once in the previous month.
What is Binge Drinking?
Binge drinking is a pattern of alcohol consumption where the goal is to get intoxicated as quickly as possible.
In addition to simply drinking alcohol systematically to get drunk, binging is frequently associated with drinking games in a social setting.
According to the CDC, binge drinking is a “serious public health problem”. Fortunately, this form of drinking is also preventable.
To further define this, we need to examine both the volume of alcohol consumption in addition to BAC (blood alcohol concentration) levels.
Binge Drinking Definition
These are the standard guidelines for what constitutes binge drinking:
- When a man consumes 5+ standard drinks within 2 hours
- When a woman consumes 4+ standard drinks within 2 hours
A standard drink is defined as:
- Glass of beer (12oz)
- Glass of wine (5oz)
- Single shot of liquor (1.5oz)
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, this type of drinking is classified as any type of alcohol consumption that raises BAC levels to 0.08 grams/deciliter.
Binge Drinking Effects
Anyone regularly drinking is exposed to a broad range of adverse outcomes.
All forms of alcohol abuse can trigger negative consequences for both mental and physical health. Some of these risks include:
- Liver disease
- Alcohol poisoning
- Neurological damage
- Heart attack
- Weakened immune system
- Increased risk of certain cancers
- Co-occurring mental health conditions
- Cognitive impairments
- Mood changes
- Memory issues
Binge drinking specifically can also increase the incidence of risky behaviors, from unprotected sex to DUIs and other legal issues.
While binge drinking does not always lead to alcohol use disorder, SAMHSA reports that the younger you are when you start drinking, the greater the chance you will develop alcohol dependence.
Beyond the manifold dangers to the health and safety of binge drinkers and those around them, these patterns of abusive alcohol consumption have a dramatic financial impact, too. This study estimated the cost of binge drinking to the US economy at $250 billion in 2010.
Given the battery of negative consequences of binge drinking, why do people engage in this type of alcohol consumption in the first place?
Why Do People Binge Drink?
If you think about binge drinking, you may automatically associate this pattern of alcohol abuse with young adults in general, and college students in particular.
Older adults also binge drink, though, and in higher numbers than you might imagine. Indeed, data shows that one in six adults in the United States indulges in at least four monthly binge drinking sessions.
Everyone binges on alcohol for different reasons. Some young people may feel pressure from peers to binge drink at social events. Other people engage in solo binge drinking sessions, whether to self-medicate symptoms of depression or anxiety or to hide their alcohol consumption from loved ones.
Just as every case of alcohol use disorder differs from person to person, there is also a wide disparity in the reasons underpinning binge drinking.
Is it Normal to Binge Drink?
This type of alcohol abuse could be considered normal in the sense that more than half of all the alcohol consumed in the United States is served to a backdrop of binge drinking. According to the same NIAAA data, more than 90% of underage drinking can be categorized as binge drinking.
Although indiscriminate binge drinking is widespread, don’t let this trick you into believing that binge drinking is a normal or healthy way to consume alcohol.
Binge Drinking vs. Alcoholism
Even though binge drinking is damaging in many ways, not everyone who engages in this type of drinking is alcoholic. That said, NIAAA data indicates that binge drinking increases the risk of alcohol use disorder developing over time.
Is Binge Drinking Alcoholism?
Even if many people who binge drink are not dependent on alcohol, the CDC reports that 90% of those who engage in heavy drinking also report binge drinking at least once during the previous month.
Most people who binge drink are not dependent on alcohol. That said, this CDC fact sheet shows that 90% of people reporting drinking heavily also reported binge drinking during the previous month.
For anyone concerned about drinking and the effects of alcohol on the development of alcohol use disorder, answer the following eleven questions honestly:
- Do you spend lots of time drinking and recovering from the effects of drinking?
- Have you experienced strong, almost unbearable cravings for alcohol?
- Are you losing interest in normal activities in favor of drinking?
- Have you more than once found yourself drinking for longer than intended, or drinking more than intended?
- Has drinking alcohol caused any health problems (physical or mental)?
- Do you feel that you need more alcohol than before to achieve the same effects?
- Have you encountered alcohol withdrawal symptoms when the effects of drinking wear off?
- On more than one occasion, have you tried and failed to stop or moderate your drinking?
- Have you behaved recklessly as a result of drinking alcohol – by driving under the influence, for instance?
- Are you experiencing problems at home, school, or work because of your alcohol intake?
- Do you continue drinking despite these negative consequences?
The above criteria from DSM-5 are utilized by healthcare professionals and addiction specialists to diagnose alcohol use disorder as follows:
- Mild AUD: 2 or 3 symptoms
- Moderate AUD: 4 or 5 symptoms
- Severe AUD: 6 or more symptoms
While answering the above questions at home is no substitute for a formal diagnosis, if you answer honestly and openly, you should get a sharper insight into whether episodes of binge drinking might be progressing inexorably toward the development of alcohol use disorder.
What can you do if you feel it’s time to stop binge drinking but you have no idea how to achieve this?
How to Stop Binge Drinking
Here is a simple blueprint to stop binge drinking:
- Explore your patterns of drinking
- Switch up your environment
- Identify what triggers you to abuse alcohol
- Create and implement alternative coping mechanisms when stressed or bored
- Reach out to friends and family to help you get the treatment you need
Explore your patterns of drinking
Before you consider how to stop drinking, you should first ask yourself a series of questions. These will help you determine the scope and severity of any problem.
- Do you often consume more than a moderate amount of alcohol daily? Moderate alcohol consumption for men consists of 2 standard drinks per day, and for women a single standard drink daily.
- Do you frequently drink very quickly?
- Do you find it difficult to control how much you drink once you start?
- How often do you drink purely to get intoxicated?
- Once you start drinking, do you find it tough to stop?
- Has your tolerance to alcohol grown? Do you often drink more than you intended or for longer periods than intended?
The more you examine your patterns of alcohol consumption, the more accurately you can establish whether social drinking is developing into potentially problematic patterns of drinking.
Switch up your environment
Where do you binge drink most often, and who are you with?
Sometimes, changing your environment can remove you from the risk of binge drinking. If, for instance, you always end up drinking more than you intended on Friday night after work, head to the movies instead of the bar.
If you feel making radical lifestyle changes is too drastic, make tweaks to your behavior, such as only taking enough cash for a couple of drinks.
Identify what triggers you to abuse alcohol
Perhaps the most valuable thing you can do when looking to stop drinking is to become aware of the people, places, things, and emotions that trigger you to abuse alcohol.
If you choose to pursue recovery at an inpatient or outpatient rehab center, your therapist will help you to identify everything that triggers you. Next is where the hard work comes.
Create and implement alternative coping mechanisms when stressed or bored
Two of the most common reasons for people drinking are stress and boredom.
If you find yourself drinking heavily to cope with emotions like this, you should find healthier methods of dealing with life’s everyday stressors.
A sensible starting point is to start gradually but consistently increasing exercise. Not only will you stave off boredom and de-stress, but you’ll also boost your mood through the dopamine release triggered by exercising.
Reach out to friends and family to help you get the treatment you need
Telling your friends and family you plan to stop drinking is a great way to stay accountable.
If you feel unable to tackle this alone, ask for help. Your loved ones can work with you to get you the addiction treatment you need to kickstart your recovery.
Alcohol Rehab at The District Recovery Center
As highlighted, binge drinking does not always lead to the development of alcohol use disorder. That said, any sustained pattern of habitual drinking is liable to trigger negative long-term outcomes.
Here at The District Recovery Center, we offer a range of outpatient treatment programs at varying levels of intensity. With outpatient rehab, you can fight back against binge drinking issues or alcoholism without the restrictions or the expense of inpatient treatment.
Our evidence-based treatment programs utilize medication-assisted treatment MAT) when appropriate. Several FDA-approved medications can help reduce the severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These medications can also inhibit the cravings you will experience in the absence of alcohol.
MAT is delivered in combination with counseling (both individual and group) and psychotherapies like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and DBT (dialectical behavior therapy).
At The District, we also provide holistic therapies to supplement the traditional therapies above.
By heading to TDRC to address your binge drinking or alcohol use disorder, we’ll equip you with the skills and toolkit you need to progress from detox to alcohol rehab to ongoing sobriety. We are here to help you throughout this ongoing process. To leave alcohol behind and to rise above the temptation to binge drink, call admissions today at 844.287.8506.