Binge drinking refers to a dangerous pattern of excessive alcohol consumption. It’s the practice of overindulging in excessive alcohol consumption or bouts of heavy drinking within a single session or continuously over several days or weeks.
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) defines binge drinking as the practice of alcohol consumption that brings your blood alcohol content to 0.08. The reaction of alcohol on our bodies varies considerably depending on many factors including gender, age and weight. For instance, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), binge drinking in men happens when they consume at least 5 or more alcoholic beverages at a time, at least one day a month. For women, on the other hand, binge drinking happens when they consume four or more alcoholic beverages over a single session for at least one day in a month.
Either way, overindulging in alcohol consumption of a short period can have severe effects on your body.
Binge Drinking and Alcoholism
Binge drinking should not be confused with Alcohol Use Disorder. Statistically, binge drinkers are not classified as alcoholics, and this is because;
- Their bodies can function without alcohol in their system
- They do not necessarily have to drink every day
A study finding by Dr. Thomas R. Frieden published in various health magazines, indicated that more than 80% of binge drinkers are not alcohol dependent.
However, binge drinking increases the risk of developing alcohol use disorder. Shifting from binge drinking happens relatively quickly compared to the non-bingers. Moreover, while binge drinkers may not be physically dependent, they might be emotionally dependent and might classify as alcoholics.
Though the line between alcoholism and binge drinking is quite blurry and subjective, this does not diminish the harmfulness and unhealthy nature of binge drinking. The truth of the matter is binge drinking is an unhealthy habit, and a habit that needs addressing early on before it turns into a dependence.
Reasons for Binge Drinking
Numerous studies conducted indicate that the habit of binge drinking is growing at an alarming rate every year. Binge drinking is rampant especially with the teenagers and young adults between 18-30 years.
Sadly, despite the tons of information on the detrimental health effects and risk of falling into alcoholism, it’s unfortunate that a lot of young people see binge drinking as a fun pastime.
There are a plethora of reasons why people engage in binge drinking. Below are a few main reasons why people may engage in binge drinking:
Having Fun – For every social gathering, you are sure to find alcohol. At times, people tend to throw away their inhibitions at social gatherings in the name of fun, and can sometimes overindulge in the amount of alcohol they consume.
Removing Emotions – Binge drinking triggers an increase in the release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is known to relax the body and cancel out negative emotions such as stress, fear, anxiety, and others. The downside, however, comes the day after when dopamine levels are lower, resulting in feelings of depression and anxiety.
Building Confidence – Many people often get shy expressing themselves or fitting in within the social circles. Alcohol tends to diminish nervousness and make people feel more at ease in social gatherings.
Asserting Dominance – With numerous drinking games happening at parties and social events, alcohol consumption is turned into a competition. Teens often try to outdo one another on the number of bottles they can chug. Ultimately, the drinking competition results in an increase in the amount of alcohol consumed in one evening.
Dominance and Rebellion – Some teens use binge drinking to show their independence and as a way of challenging rules.
Signs of Binge Drinking problems
There are common tell-tale signs that direct to a binge-drinking problem. Here are a list of some of the signs of binge drinking.
Consuming Excessive Alcohol on Weekends or Holidays
Unlike alcoholics, individuals who engage in binge drinking do not drink every day. A major red flag, however, is the quantities of alcohol they drink over the weekends.
In most cases, you will find them justifying that they do not drink every day, so it’s not a real issue, but it can have serious health implications.
The day after an episode of binge drinking, you’re likely to feel exhausted, tired and with a severe hangover.
During such periods, you are not able to perform optimally on daily tasks, and even risk missing out on work and school.
Equally, you may find yourself ignoring the needs of your family and even children.
Failure to Limit your Drinking
A red flag that might indicate binge drinking is when you go to a bar or pub with the intention of having one or two drinks, but end up consuming far more until you become drunk.
Normal drinkers can make informed and responsible choices. For the binge drinkers, however, all is thrown out of the window, and you may find yourself engaging in overly irresponsible and potentially risky activities such as driving under the influence of alcohol.
Ignoring Concerns of Loved Ones
If you find yourself constantly ignoring requests from your loved ones for you to call quits on drinking, then you might be on a path to binge drinking.
Binge drinking is a social vice, and in most cases, if you also find yourself getting defensive because of your drinking patterns, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your choices.
Side-Effects of Binge Drinking
Though it happens occasionally, binge drinking tags along with numerous health side effects.
We shall look at both the long-term and short-term side effects of binge drinking.
The risks of binge drinking may vary considerably depending on various factors such as:
- Alcohol consumed
- Rate of consumption
- Body Mass Index (BMI)
Effects of Binge Drinking on the brain
Numerous studies indicate that binge drinking results in an exponential increase in the neural activity of the brain. The same effect is also evident for the individuals with alcohol use disorder.
The changes observed in the brain might indicate the reduction in the brain’s capacity to respond to stimuli and information process, all which are tell-tale signs of the onset of permanent and alcohol-induced brain damage.
As we had earlier stated, binge drinking varies considerably between different genders and age groups.
Now, let us look at the effects of binge-drinking on men, women, and children.
How to reduce the risk of Binge Drinking
Here is a list of some of the rules you can follow to limit instances of binge drinking:
- Setting limits of your alcohol intake and abiding by them
- Drinking slowly over an extended period, or alternating alcoholic drinks with soft drinks or water.
- Eat before or during drinking
- Seek lower content alcoholic beverages
If you are concerned that your binge drinking is becoming a problem, you should seek assistance from your GP. They should be able to advise you on the different options and possibly refer to you counselling or a rehabilitation programme.