Whenever a person consumes large quantities of alcohol within a short period of time, this is known as binge drinking. Many people who binge drink do so regularly. Although binge drinking and alcoholism are not one and the same, alcohol use disorder is frequently a consequence of habitual binge drinking.
Binge drinking is currently a widespread problem throughout the United States, particularly among young adults, and young adults in college settings. Due to their significantly higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC), binge drinkers have a greater likelihood of experiencing accidental overdose by alcohol poisoning, and a host of other accidental injuries. Binge drinkers are more likely to:
- Get into car accidents
- Incite or join violent altercations
- Engage in high-risk sexual activities
- Commit suicide
Moreover, although binge drinking doesn’t necessarily indicate alcohol addiction or alcohol use disorder, it does rapidly set the stage for alcohol addiction. Chemical changes that occur throughout the body and the brain as the result of excessive drinking place binge drinkers at an elevated risk of chemical dependency.
The Definition of Binge Drinking
There are several markers that are commonly used to define binge drinking. The first and most important of these is a person’s BAC after drinking. This is a measurement of the percent of ethyl or ethanol alcohol within a person’s bloodstream at any given time.
Men who drink five or more alcoholic beverages within just two hours or less will typically have a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher. Women who drink just four or more alcoholic beverages within this same time period will also have a BAC of 0.08 or higher. However, certain factors can affect a person’s ability to metabolize alcohol. When these factors exist, binge drinking or extreme intoxication within a short period of time may be achieved with fewer than four drinks.
These factors include:
- Water composition or hydration levels at the time of drinking
- Body weight
- Enzyme levels and enzyme production
- Any medications being used while consuming alcohol
- Lack of food prior to drinking
- Assigned sex and the individual’s corresponding hormone profile
Quickly achieving a BAC of 0.08 or higher is a standard marker for binge drinking. Some people may act and appear extremely intoxicated with significantly lower BACs, and with far less alcohol consumption. The risks associated with binge drinking become exponentially higher when alcohol is consumed with certain medications, on an empty stomach, or while dehydrated.
What Leads to Binge Drinking?
People frequently binge drink at large parties and in other environments where peer pressure is high. A person may binge drink simply because they have limited experience with alcohol consumption, and do not understand their individual tolerance level. Whenever people drink alcohol, their inhibition and decision-making abilities decline. As such, binge drinking can also be a simple consequence of drinking itself.
Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol triggers the release of “feel good” chemicals. These are known as neurotransmitters, and they are produced by the brain’s reward center. People often drink more alcohol to experience increased feelings of euphoria, heightened confidence, and relaxation.
Some binge drinkers experience blackout episodes. During these events, they may continue having conversations with others and taking action, without being consciously aware of what they’re doing. Binge drinking with blackout episodes places people at an incredibly high risk of alcohol poisoning and alcohol-related injuries.
Binge Drinking vs Alcoholism: What Are The Differences?
Binge drinking is consuming large quantities of alcohol within a very short period of time. Alcoholism or alcohol use disorder is the inability to stop drinking without experiencing painful and potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms. People with alcohol use disorder continue drinking on a regular basis even though doing so causes:
- Financial hardship
- Interpersonal problems
- Legal issues
- Professional or work-related challenges
and many other negative effects. Although continuing to drink can make an individual with alcohol use disorder feel bad, not drinking at all will make them feel worse. Once a person has become chemically dependent upon alcohol, quitting is only safe when it is done with professional monitoring and needs-specific medical interventions. People with alcohol use disorder lack the ability to control how much they drink, and cannot abstain from drinking altogether. If they do, they experience widespread physical and psychological distress.
Comparatively, binge drinking sets the stage for alcohol use disorder. This is especially true of regular binge drinking. Routinely consuming large amounts of alcohol within short periods of time expedites the chemical changes that cause alcohol dependency. Once a person is chemically dependent, suddenly stopping alcohol use altogether is downright dangerous.
Preventing Binge Drinking
Binge drinking isn’t just a problem among young-age college students. Adults frequently binge drink as well. Statistically, the likelihood of binge drinking is much higher for men than women.
Across all demographics, education on the extraordinary personal, physical, and social dangers of binge drinking is the most effective method of prevention. In addition to having higher rates of alcohol-related accidents, more legal troubles, and greater social distress, binge drinkers also have higher rates of:
- Heart disease
- Sexually transmitted disease
- Liver disease
- Unwanted pregnancies and pregnancy complications
- Breast, mouth, liver, colon, and esophageal cancers
and many other serious health issues. When people understand the risks of binge drinking, they have a higher likelihood of making decisions to better protect their health.
Recurring problems with binge drinking may indicate alcohol use disorder. As with all other forms of a substance use disorder, alcohol use disorder develops in stages. People being using substances in a purely recreational fashion, but quickly progress to regular use, heavy use, or everyday use.
This is followed by substance abuse, and eventually by full-blown dependency. Seeking treatment during the initial stages of a developing addiction can make recovery infinitely easier.
At Recovery Bay Center, we offer inpatient rehab, medically assisted treatment, supervised detox, and more. If you or someone you care about has been binge drinking, we can help. Call us today to schedule a pre-intake interview and to learn more about the many interventions we provide.