Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is a hazardous pattern of excessive and rapid alcohol consumption. Although common, binge drinking has considerable health and safety risks. It can lead to blackouts, alcohol poisoning and other alcohol-related problems.
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Binge drinking is a common, costly and potentially deadly practice. It accounts for 77 percent of the economic costs of excessive drinking and contributes more than half of the 88,000 alcohol-related deaths in the United States each year.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s definition of binge drinking is drinking that boosts the blood alcohol content to 0.08 or higher, making a person legally intoxicated. For most men, this occurs when they consume five drinks or more over the course of two hours. Women typically reach this level after consuming four drinks in a two-hour period.

Binge drinking is not the same as alcoholism, but it can raise the risk of alcohol addiction. It can also lead to health problems, accidents and alcohol poisoning, which can be deadly.

Who Binge Drinks?

One in six adults binge drinks four times a month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and they do so with gusto. Binge drinkers consume eight drinks per binge episode, on average, and binge drink more than four times a month.

Binge drinking is more common in households with incomes above $75,000; however, people of lower incomes who binge drink tend to binge drink more frequently and consume more alcohol during a binge.

Though people of all ages binge drink, it’s more typical among younger adults in the 18 to 34 age range. Binge drinking is also more common among regular, heavy drinkers.

While men are twice as likely as women to binge drink, a 2017 study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research found that women in the 60-plus age group are binge drinking more than they did previously.

Binge Drinking in College

Binge drinking is a rampant problem on many college campuses. More than one in three college students between the ages of 18 and 22 reported binge drinking in the previous month in the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Many college students treat binge drinking as an expected rite of passage. But binge drinking can be especially risky for inexperienced young people who might not recognize when they’ve had too much. Unfortunately, this can easily lead to alcohol poisoning, which can be deadly.

That’s how Erica Buschick, a freshman at Miami University in Ohio, lost her life.

In early 2017, the 18-year-old was found dead in her dorm room after a night of excessive drinking with her roommate, according to a Chicago Tribune article. The two young women had reportedly consumed two bottles of champagne at their dorm and then continued on to a bar, where they drank even more.

Because Buschick was too drunk to walk at that point, her roommate got her back to her dorm room with the help of a taxi driver and placed Buschick on a beanbag chair to sleep off the effects of the alcohol. She never woke up.

Toxicology reports revealed that Buschick’s BAC was more than four times the legal driving limit of 0.08.

Buschick’s tragic story is not that unusual. An estimated 113 people between the ages of 15 and 24 die every year from alcohol poisoning, according to the CDC.

Effects of Binge Drinking

Alcohol poisoning is just one of the many dangers of binge drinking. Binge drinking also contributes to motor vehicle accidents, suicide, homicide and other types of fatalities.

Of course, most people who binge drink won’t die, but binge drinking can be harmful in other ways.

Short-term effects of binge drinking can include:

  • Coordination difficulties
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hangovers and dehydration
  • Alcohol blackouts
  • Drunk driving, DUIs and car accidents
  • Unintentional injuries from falls, burns and drowning
  • Unsafe sex practices that lead to sexually transmitted disease and unintended pregnancy
  • Violence against others, including domestic violence and sexual assault

Binge drinking doesn’t mean someone is an alcoholic. Over time, though, it can lead to an alcohol addiction, or alcoholism.

Other long-term effects of binge drinking include:

Certain populations are more vulnerable to the dangers of binge drinking. Adolescents who binge drink, for example, face a higher risk of developing an addiction.

Women are more susceptible than men to the effects of binge drinking. That’s partly because men have a higher body water content, which dilutes the concentration of alcohol in their system. Women have approximately 10 percent less body water than men. As a result, a woman will become more intoxicated than a man of the same size who drinks the exact same amount of alcohol.

Hormonal and metabolic differences also contribute to women’s lower tolerance for alcohol.

Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

Amy Keller, RN, BSN
Content Writer,
As a former journalist and a registered nurse, Amy draws on her clinical experience, compassion and storytelling skills to provide insight into the disease of addiction and treatment options. Amy has completed the American Psychiatric Nurses Association’s course on Effective Treatments for Opioid Use Disorder and continuing education on Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT). Amy is an advocate for patient- and family-centered care. She previously participated in Moffitt Cancer Center’s patient and family advisory program and was a speaker at the Institute of Patient-and Family-Centered Care’s 2015 national conference.
Medical Reviewer
Ashraf Ali
Psychiatrist, Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health

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