Binge Drinking – What is it?

binge drinking

Binge drinking in the United States one of the most common ways that alcohol is misused. Some people may be surprised to learn that more than half of all the alcohol consumed is done so during binge drinking sessions.  However, many people don’t know exactly what is meant by the term “binge drinking”.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which conducts the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), defines binge drinking as 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.

Statistics show that one in six adults in America binge drinks at least four times a month with men being twice as likely as women to engage in this risky behavior. Furthermore, people who are excessive drinkers in their teens are at risk of having binge drinking become a regular occurrence as adults and then going on to develop alcohol use disorder.

Although the pattern of excessive drinking often starts in youth the problem is prevalent among older Americans too. In fact, new research finds that over 10 percent of Americans over the age of 65 binge drink regularly. That figure is higher than it was a decade ago, which suggests that, as our population ages, many people are carrying the habits of their youth into their later years.

There are also significant short-term and long-term health and wellness impacts from binge drinking. During the actual binge drinking episode, a person may experience vomiting, nausea, hangover, and memory loss. People who overindulge are also at risk for alcohol poisoning and even injuries that can be life-threatening.

Long-term health impacts from binge drinking can include long-term memory impairment, depression high blood pressure, heart problems, liver damage, and even cancer. Binge drinking can also lead to problems including unemployment, domestic violence, sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancy, and car accidents.

There are a variety of reasons why people over indulge when they drink. Social pressure is one reason and results from people wanting to feel less anxious at parties or in other social settings. Parties are also the place that many young people get pressured into binge drinking for the first time. Graduation parties, Spring Break and sporting events are also places where young people tend to over-drink.

One more dangerous behavior is when people drink alone, because they want to hide the behavior from loved ones

Another indicator of binge drinking are frequent blackouts. When you drink excessively, you impair your brain’s ability to keep short-term information in your memory. A blackout has happened when a person cannot remember what happened or what they said when they were drinking. Of concern is that frequent blackouts can also impact a person’s memory later in life, especially if binge drinking stars when a person is young and their brain is still developing.

Binge drinking over an extended period can leave permanent damage in the areas of the brain that impact how a person exhibits self-control and experiences pleasure. These changes can make it more difficult to say no to alcohol and reinforces the desire to use it to push back feelings of anxiety, sadness, fear, anger, or guilt.

Here are some of the questions a person can ask to determine if they might be engaging in damaging drinking behavior:

  • Do you ever have more than four drinks in a 24-hour period?
  • Have you thought to yourself that you need to reduce your drinking?
  • Do other people comment on how much you drink?
  • Have you ever forgotten what happened to you during a drinking episode?
  • Do you feel guilty or ashamed when you drink too much?
  • Are you surprised when you drank more than you planned?
  • Do you ignore responsibilities to make time to drink?

If you or someone you care about is engaging in binge drinking, you can take the Michigan Alcohol Screening Test (MAST) for a further self-assessment.

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