What Is Binge Drinking?

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What Is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking behavior that rapidly brings a person's blood alcohol concentration level (BAC) to 0.80 g/dl or higher. While this varies for each individual, this usually means consuming around four (for women) or five (for men) alcoholic drinks over a two hour period. 

Binge drinking is not recognized as a distinct condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the resource that doctors utilize to diagnose the entire spectrum of mental disorders. People who engage in chronic binge drinking may be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder, which may then be further categorized as mild, moderate, or severe.

While binge drinking can have serious consequences, the CDC reports that most people who binge drink do not have a severe alcohol use disorder.

How Do You Know?

There are a number of signs that you might have a problem with binge drinking. Some of these include:

  • Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol on the weekends or at social events
  • Consuming so much alcohol that you blackout
  • Drinking four or five drinks in two hours or less
  • Drinking more than you had planned
  • Engaging in behaviors while drinking that you later regret
  • Feeling tired or hungover after a night out drinking
  • Worrying or feeling guilty about your excessive drinking

Binge drinking is most common in younger adults between the ages of 18 and 34. However, the CDC reports that binge drinking is also frequent in adults over the age of 35.

Binge drinking also occurs across all socioeconomic levels. Research suggests that households with incomes higher than $75,000 a year and with higher educational status binge drink more frequently, while people with lower income and educational status consume more binge drinks.

Types of Binge Drinking

There are a number of different reasons why people may engage in binge drinking. Around one in six adults in the U.S. binge drink four times a month, which suggests that weekend binges are a common phenomenon. A variety of influences can contribute to excessive alcohol use, including genetic, environmental, psychological, and social factors.

  • Alcohol derivation effect: This results when someone with an alcohol use disorder drinks to excess, produces excessive endorphin/opiate signal and the brain adapts by down regulating the opiate receptors. With cessation of drinking, over time the opiate receptors increase their sensitivity, and this increases the strength of alcohol craving as well as the pleasure/euphoria/buzz experienced when drinking eventually resumes.
  • Stress-related binge drinking: Some people use alcohol to regain control of life and calm down. For some, it can be a way to relieve work-related and other stressors. Alcohol use can seem like a way to temporarily forget about life's problems.
  • Social binge drinking: People may also engage in binge drinking in order to fit in with their social group. This might involve going out after work with fellow co-workers or drinking with people in order to stay in touch with friends and acquaintances.
  • Boredom-related binge drinking: In other cases, people may consume alcohol to pass the time, seek stimulation, and to relieve the monotony of life.
  • Mood-related binge drinking: Sometimes people may consume large quantities of alcohol very quickly as a way to relieve feelings of sadness or anxiety. They may be of any age, gender, or socioeconomic group. They crave comfort, safety, and security, and binge drinking may become a coping mechanism to manage distressing feelings.

Impact

Binge drinking can have a wide variety of negative consequences. One study published in The Lancet found that alcohol consumption is linked to more than 60 different medical conditions and that 4% of the global burden of disease can be attributed to alcohol use. 

Binge drinking is associated with a range of health issues that can have both short-term and long-term effects. Some of these include:

  • Accidental alcohol poisoning
  • Accidents including car crashes and falls
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Chronic health conditions, including liver disease, heart disease, and stroke
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders
  • Increased risk for some types of cancer
  • Memory and learning problems
  • Mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, and psychosis

Occasional binge drinkers have a high rate of injuries compared to nondrinkers and even those who are chronic heavy drinkers. Excessive alcohol consumption is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S,, accounting for every one in 10 deaths among working-age adults.

Binge drinking also has high social and economic costs. A CDC report found that excessive alcohol use in the U.S. cost $249 billion in 2010, $191 billion of which was linked to binge drinking. These totals include losses linked to health care costs, criminal justice costs, reduced workplace productivity, and other expenditures.

Tips for Managing Your Alcohol Consumption

If you are concerned about your level of alcohol consumption, there are some things that you can do that may help you avoid binge drinking behavior. Some tactics that can help you reduce your alcohol intake:

  • Plan ahead: Before you find yourself in a situation where alcohol will be consumed, set limits on how much you plan to drink. Enlist the help of a friend to help you stick to your limits. Let them know that you are trying to cut back on alcohol—having support from loved ones can help you stick to your goals.
  • Use moderation: Try to keep your alcohol consumption at a moderate level. The guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Human Services define moderate drinking as one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. Some people may find this easier said than done, but being aware of what is considered a moderate alcohol intake level may help you stick to your limits.
  • Swap drinks: Rather than ordering a large drink or something with a high alcohol content, swap for something smaller or a drink that contains less alcohol. Focus on enjoying the drink slowly rather than consuming it quickly.
  • Get help: If you are concerned about your binge drinking or you feel that your alcohol intake is negatively affecting your life, talk to your doctor. They can recommend treatment options that may involve psychotherapy, medications, and other interventions.

If you are even an occasional binge drinker, there are many reasons to stop the habit or try to cut back on your drinking. Implement some strategies to help lower your alcohol intake or talk to your doctor about things you can do to get your binge drinking under control.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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