Alcoholism is a serious condition that affects the population at large. While alcohol laws are strict in that you can’t get the substance before the age of 21, many people consume the elixir, making it easier for the youth to obtain. Between 2011 and 2015, the leading causes of alcohol-attributable deaths due to chronic condition in the United States were alcohol-associated liver disease, heart disease and stroke, upper aerodigestive tract cancers, unspecified liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, breast cancer, alcohol use disorder, and hypertension.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), an estimated 95,000 people die from alcohol-related causes each year. Alcohol is the third-leading preventable cause of death in the country, only falling behind tobacco and poor diet and physical inactivity. In 2019, alcohol-impaired fatalities led to 10,142 deaths, translating to 28 percent of overall driving fatalities.
The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that 85.6 percent of people over the age of 18 reported experimenting with alcohol at some point in their lives, with another 69.5 percent surveyed admitting to drinking in the past year. Even worse, 54.9 percent reported drinking in the past month. The same survey found 25.8 percent of people in this age group reported engaging in binge drinking in the previous month, with another 6.3 percent engaging in heavy alcohol use.
Binge drinking has always been a problem. Although a person may not be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) or drink frequently, binge drinking can lead to the same catastrophic outcomes that an addict may face. For example, a night out after consuming significant amounts of alcohol can lead to drinking and driving, jail, fighting, unprotected sex, and a host of other problems that have detrimental effects in the long term.
Below we’ll examine how binge drinking has a dramatic effect on the lives of everyone and how it can lead to alcoholism.
What Is Binge Drinking?
Binge drinking is consuming enough alcohol at once that your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level is 0.08 percent or more. For men, this usually occurs after having five or more drinks within a few hours, while for women, it’s about four or more drinks in the same span. Not everyone who binge drinks meets the criteria for an alcohol use disorder, but they put themselves at a much higher risk of developing one.
Too much alcohol, especially all at once, is dangerous. Heavy drinking increases the odds of developing certain cancers or liver diseases, such as cirrhosis and fatty liver disease. It can also damage your brain and other vital organs. In some cases, this damage can be permanent. Drinking during pregnancy can also have significant effects on your baby. Binge drinking alcohol increases the chances of death from injuries, car crashes, homicide, and suicide.
Although not everyone who binge drinks is considered an alcoholic, it’s a fine line. Below we’ll examine binge drinking and alcoholism.
Binge Drinking vs. Alcoholism
Since binge drinking differs from an alcohol use disorder, also known as alcohol addiction or alcoholism, diagnosing the condition is based on problems alcohol may cause in the individual’s life.
If you’re diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder, you must display at least two of the following:
- An inability to cut down, despite your best effort.
- Drinking four or five beers when you only intended to drink one.
- Spending a significant amount of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of alcohol.
- Constant cravings to drink alcohol.
- Failing to fulfill obligations at home, work, or school because of alcohol.
- Continued use of alcohol despite the health problems it’s caused or made worse.
- Continued use of alcohol despite its adverse impact on your relationships.
- Drinking in very extremely dangerous situations.
- Requiring substantial amounts of alcohol to achieve the same effects or experiencing a diminished effect when drinking the same amount.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms upon cessation or continuing to drink to alleviate withdrawal symptoms.
Those who binge drink may or may not show signs of an alcohol use disorder. This depends solely on the level of impairment and distress alcohol causes in their life. In many cases, long-term binge drinking can lead to the development of alcohol use disorders. Adolescents who binge drink increase their odds of developing the condition. They’re three times more likely to develop the disease as an adult.
Common Signs of Binge Drinking
Some signs of binge drinking include feeling unable to stop drinking, leading to a person consuming more than intended. However, these symptoms will vary from one person to another. Unlike patterns of alcohol abuse, binge drinking may not be consistent or frequent. A person may only drink once or twice a month, but each time they do, it can be as dangerous as a person who drinks frequently. Consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short period will have the same adverse short-and-long-term effects on functioning and health.
If you’re worried about yourself, friends, or loved ones binge drinking, here are some common signs of binge drinking to watch out for:
- Drinking more than intended, despite setting limits for yourself.
- Consuming five or more drinks in two hours for men, or consuming four or more drinks in the same period for women.
- Feeling hopeless because you can’t stop drinking or even slow down.
- Drinking until you black out or having gaps in memory when consuming alcohol.
- Outward violent or dangerous behaviors when under the influence, including getting into bar fights, driving while drunk, or having unprotected sex with strangers.
Effects and Dangers of Binge Drinking
We can’t stress this enough because of its importance. Binge drinking can be as dangerous to your health and well-being as long-term alcohol consumption. Binge drinking will lead to various social and economic consequences. Binge drinking can have the following severe, adverse effects on the brain and body, including:
- Alcohol poisoning
- Liver disease
- Fetal alcohol effects
- Heart attack
- Neurological damage
- Diabetes-related issues
- Sexual dysfunction
Binge drinking can also impair your judgement, putting you at a higher risk of the following:
- Blacking out
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Legal issues, including charges for fighting or driving under the influence
- Risky sexual behavior, which may lead to sexually transmitted diseases
- Unintended pregnancy
- Being the perpetrator or victim of physical violence
- Being the perpetrator or victim of sexual violence
- Using tobacco or other drugs in conjunction with alcohol
Long-Term Alcohol Effects
Alcohol consumption will have severe consequences on our brains and body. While drinking in moderation isn’t dangerous, and in some cases, encouraged, many people don’t have the ability to drink a glass of wine. For some, the urge is so great that it causes them to drink the entire bottle. Don’t let its legality fool you; alcohol is dangerous and will cause long-term effects. These include:
- Weakened heart muscle
- Alcohol hepatitis
- Irregular heartbeat
- Liver cancer
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Mood changes
- Weakened immune system
- Increased risk of cancers of the throat, mouth, esophagus, and breasts
- Memory and learning impairments
Another significant effect of binge drinking is developing alcohol addiction. The younger a person is when they start drinking, the higher the odds of continuing to have drinking problems and creating a dependence on the substance. Binge drinking can also lead to alcohol poisoning, which can be deadly. Even if you don’t drink regularly, an overdose of alcohol can be fatal. If you or someone you witness overdoses on alcohol, you must get help immediately—call 911 at the first signs of an alcohol overdose. The longer you wait, the greater the odds of permanent damage or death.
How to Quit Binge Drinking
People binge drink for many reasons. While one strategy works for a person to stop, another won’t, which is why you must be open-minded when it comes to getting help. If you or someone you care about wants to quit binge drinking or treat alcohol addiction, they must consider the following:
- Change your environment
- Weigh the pros and cons of drinking – is it helping or hurting you?
- Reward your accomplishments with positive reinforcement
- Talk to family and friends to see how they can help you
- Consider abstinence and quit alcohol altogether – stop walking the fine line
- Set limits for yourself if you aren’t ready to stop
- Find alternative and healthier ways to regulate your emotions
- Attend a detox program to help you avoid potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms
- Consider medication