Have you ever gone to a party with friends and started off with a few mixed drinks, then taken a couple of shots of tequila in between drinks, then shotgunned a beer, and had a couple more mixed drinks? Well, that is certainly a case of binge drinking, but not all cases are this severe and some are more severe. So what exactly is binge drinking?
According to Merriam Webster, the definition of the noun binge is an unrestrained and often excessive indulgence or an act of excessive or compulsive consumption (as of food). Binge drinking is when you drink excessively, but “excessive” can be subjective? In order to talk scientifically about binge drinking, we need to define where the line is.
Different organizations define binge drinking differently based on a few different factors. These factors could be the number of drinks consumed, blood alcohol content, gender, and length of use. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Addiction (NIAAA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) are 2 of the more reputable organizations that provide definitions of binge drinking.
NIAAA – “a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent – or 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter – or higher. For a typical adult, this pattern corresponds to consuming 5 or more drinks (male), or 4 or more drinks (female), in about 2 hours.”
SAMSHA – “5 or more alcoholic drinks for males or 4 or more alcoholic drinks for females on the same occasion (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) on at least 1 day in the past month.”
Binge Drinking vs. Heavy Alcohol Use
We now understand that binge drinking is drinking alcohol to excess, but then what is heavy alcohol use? Aren’t they the same thing? Actually, they are not.
The NIAAA’s definition for binge drinking isn’t that far off from their definition of heavy alcohol use, “more than 4 drinks on any day for men or more than 3 drinks for women.” However, the way SAMHSA differs the 2 is that binge drinking is drinking heavily within a short period of time whereas heavy alcohol use is binge drinking over a period of time: “binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month.”
Who Binge Drinks?
According to the CDC (who uses the NIAAA definitions for binge drinking and heavy alcohol use0, about 1 in 6 adults binge drink 4 or more times per month. Additionally, men and people between ages 18 and 34 are the populations most likely to binge drink. Lastly, of the people under age 21 who report drinking any alcohol, the majority participate in binge drinking.
Risks of Binge Drinking
The risks associated with binge drinking are many and are extremely severe. These include:
- Alcohol use disorders/alcohol addiction
- Heart disease
- Accidental injuries (car crashes, falls, and burns)
- Violence towards others and self
- Poor pregnancy outcomes
- Cancer (mouth, throat, esophagus, breast, liver, colon)
- Memory loss
- Learning impairments
Preventing Binge Drinking
It can be easy to say “don’t drink excessively”, but it is not as easily done. For one, many people don’t know what constitutes binge drinking or how dangerous it can be. Additionally, alcoholism is a powerful mental illness that is not always overcome easily. However, just because preventing binge drinking is difficult, doesn’t mean it is impossible. If you could save yourself or your loved one from the risks listed above, wouldn’t you? Here are 3 things you can do to prevent binge drinking:
- Educate your children, friends, and/or family members on what binge drinking is and it’s risks.
- Set an example and limit your drinks. Say no to the round of shots. Just by you saying no, others who aren’t interested will feel more comfortable also saying no.
- Provide delicious alternatives to alcoholic drinks. Think mocktails. Believe it or not, those fruity mixed drinks still taste amazing without alcohol.