When we hear about binge drinking, we typically think of college kids consuming copious amounts of alcohol at a wild house party. While binge drinking is certainly a problem among college-age adults, it’s a widespread issue that affects people of all ages.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as drinking enough alcohol in the space of two hours to bring your blood alcohol level up to .08 g/dL.(1) For women, binge drinking means drinking four or more drinks in two hours, and for men, it means drinking five or more drinks in that time period.
The Prevalence of Binge Drinking in the U.S.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, national surveys indicate that one in six adults in the U.S. binge drinks around four times each month, drinking around eight drinks per binge.(2)While more young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 binge drink than any other age group, those over 65 do it more often—up to six times a month on average. Binge drinking is common among college students, but 70 percent of binge drinkers are 26 years old or older. Ninety percent of alcohol consumption among the under-21 set is in the form of binge drinking.
The Dangers of Binge Drinking
Binge drinking is responsible for 77 percent of the $249 billion price tag of alcohol abuse in the U.S. But the cost to those who binge drink can be far more devastating than financial losses. Binge drinking is associated with drowning, alcohol poisoning deaths, traffic fatalities, falls, gun violence, sexual assault and domestic violence. It’s linked to risky sexual behaviors that lead to unintended pregnancies and STDs, and it can lead to serious health problems like high blood pressure and stroke, liver disease and sexual dysfunction. Binge drinking also commonly leads to legal, financial and relationship problems.
How Binge Drinking Can Lead to Dependence
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, frequent binge drinking can lead to the buildup of tolerance, which means that your brain compensates for the presence of alcohol by changing the way it functions.(3) When you abuse alcohol, a depressant, the brain increases the activities of excitatory neurotransmitters in an attempt to regain balance.
As a result, you have to drink increasingly larger amounts of alcohol in order to feel the desired effects. Eventually, the brain may begin to operate more normally when alcohol is present than when it’s not. When this occurs, dependence has set in, and you’ll experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is withheld from the body.
Getting Help for Severe Alcohol Abuse
If you find that you’re binge drinking more than you feel you should, especially if you get cravings for alcohol, you may be dangerously close to developing an addiction to it. Addiction is characterized by the inability to control your drinking despite negative consequences to your health, relationships and finances.
Whether or not an addiction or physical dependence has set in, treatment through a professional alcohol treatment program can help you explore the underlying issues that lead you to binge drink. Treatment is helpful for learning to replace self-destructive thoughts and behaviors with healthier ones, and it can bring balance into your life and help you learn to fully embrace and enjoy activities without alcohol, which has the power to eventually strip away all pleasure and motivation and leave you a shell of your former self.
Getting help now for unhealthy patterns of drinking can improve your quality of life, reduce your risk of experiencing negative consequences and help prevent your binge drinking from transitioning to addiction and dependence. Whether it’s finding a halfway house or a recovery residency, there are resources that can help.