Although there is no official definition for alcoholism, the American Society of Addiction Medicine says that the disease is characterized by a preoccupation with alcohol, failure to control its consumption and continued use of the substance despite negative consequences. If you feel like this only describes your pattern with alcohol some of the time, you might still be at risk for developing an alcohol use disorder. Binge drinking and addiction are not the same, but periodic episodes of excessive drinking can be just as unsafe as chronic alcohol abuse.
What Is Binge Drinking?
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as consuming enough alcohol to bring blood alcohol levels to at least 0.08 g/dL. Although everyone metabolizes alcohol differently, women tend to reach this point when they consume about four drinks in two hours. For men, drinking five alcoholic beverages in two hours is considered binge drinking.
In comparison, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 state that alcohol should be consumed in moderation. Moderate drinking involves consuming up to one drink daily for women and up to two for men. Even if you only drink more than that once a month, you have participated in binge drinking.
Who Is At Risk For Binge Drinking?
According to NPR, many Americans fall into the blurry zone between moderate drinking and alcoholism. The CDC reports that women who take in more than eight alcoholic beverages a week are heavy drinkers. If those drinks are consumed in two evenings, they probably contribute to binge-drinking behavior.
This CDC fact sheet explains that people who are most likely to binge drink include:
- Adults aged 18 to 34 years
- People with annual household incomes greater than $75,000
- Individuals with higher levels of education
Many who fall below the legal drinking age say that they have had at least one bout of binge drinking. Most have engaged in this type of alcohol consumption many times.
The Dangers Of Binge Drinking
Most people who binge drink a few times per week or month are not physically dependent on alcohol. They don’t experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking, and they haven’t developed a tolerance to the substance. However, binge drinkers consume a total of about 17.5 billion drinks a year.
Binge drinking and addiction can cause a number of problems, including:
- Memory loss and learning problems
- Loss of coordination
- Reckless behavior
- Unintended pregnancies
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Alcohol poisoning
- Chronic diseases
In young people whose brains are still developing, excessive drinking can cause long-term damage to brain cells.
Do You Need Treatment For Binge Drinking?
Although all binge drinkers are not alcoholics, some people with alcohol use disorder are binge drinkers. If you use alcohol compulsively, have trouble controlling your intake or crave the substance when you’re not drinking, you may have cause for concern.
Many people who binge drink have trouble stopping after just a few beverages. The next day, they are plagued by nausea and headaches and may have trouble going about their daily activities. These factors may indicate that you are at risk for alcohol use disorder.
About 16 million Americans suffer from alcohol use disorder, and one in six American adults binge drinks approximately four times a month. While physicians often screen for severe alcohol problems, they may miss warning signs in patients who restrict their alcohol consumption to a few intense episodes per month.
Binge drinking, however, is a predictor of other alcohol-related problems. If excessive alcohol consumption is negatively impacting your physical, social, financial or emotional wellness, you may want to seek help. Learning other ways to cope with stress, relax at the end of a long way or enjoy socializing can bring you more fulfillment than a few drinks and a Sunday hangover.