What Does Going on a Bender Mean?

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What is a bender? This slang term refers to an extended period of continued drug or alcohol use. An alcoholic bender is a multiple-day drinking spree during which the person does not eat and gets very little sleep. Someone who is on a bender might pass out for a short time, wake up, and start drinking again.

Bender Meaning

Merriam-Webster defines bender as a "spree." The Cambridge Dictionary says the word bender means "a period during which a large amount of alcohol is drunk."

What 'Going on a Bender' Means

An alcoholic bender does not refer to one evening of intoxication. Instead, it refers to a drinking spree that is extended over at least two nights. Some definitions insist that in order to be a true bender, the drinking spree has to last at least three days.

Why three days? Because a weekend is two days and there are many drinkers who drink all weekend. Going that third day, and possibly missing work or school, makes the drinking spree a self-destructive bender rather than just another lost weekend.

During a bender, the drinker typically begins drinking as soon as they wake up, continues drinking until they pass out again, then wakes up and repeats the cycle.

Why Do They Call It a Bender?

The origin of the term "bender" meaning an extended bout of drinking alcohol is not certain. It appears to have been first mentioned in the mid-1800s.

Some think that the meaning of bender came about as a reference to the act of bending one's elbow to take a drink. Others believe it is associated with the phrase "getting bent out of shape."

Binge Drinking vs. Bender

Sometimes the term "binge drinking" is confused with "bender." Some people believe that warnings against binge drinking are also warning against going on a multiple-day bout of intoxication, but that is not what binge drinking is at all.

Binge drinking is drinking five or more drinks in any one drinking session for men, or four or more drinks a day for women. Harmful drinking can occur long before it reaches the level of a bender.

While going on a bender might be considered self-destructive behavior, drinking five beers or a bottle of wine in one day is considered hazardous drinking.

What Happens to Your Body During a Bender

Whether you are bingeing or going on a bender, you are risking your life and health. Both are destructive and unhealthy. Drinking for three days takes a toll on your brain and body, including inflammation, nausea, racing heart, and severe hangover symptoms.

Researchers attribute these effects to excess acetaldehyde (one of the byproducts your liver pumps out after breaking down alcohol) that travels through your blood to your brain, heart, and stomach when drinking heavily. When you go on a bender, you are not giving your liver any time to recover.

You are also putting yourself at risk of many serious health concerns, including:

When to Call 911

Know the signs of alcohol use poisoning and call 911 immediately if you see someone experiencing them. You may save their life.

  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Repeated loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Slow heart rate
  • No gag reflex (which prevents choking when vomiting)
  • Extremely low body temperature or clammy or blue-tinged skin
  • Slow or irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between any two breaths)
  • Vomiting while passed out without waking up during or after vomiting

When to Get Help

If your continuous drinking or drugging session goes bad, you may end up committing or being the victim of assault, destroying property, or wake up in jail, perhaps with little memory of what transpired.

A three-day bender that results in missing work or shirking other duties can be especially destructive to your reputation. It may be a wake-up call to others that you have a drinking problem and may soon be hitting bottom.

Frequent benders may be a sign of an alcohol use disorder. If you habitually drink in excess for consecutive days, you may want to take an online quiz to see if your drinking has reached the level of alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence.

If you find that you have developed a problem with alcohol, help is available. Don't wait until it's too late. Reaching out to a trusted family member or friend or healthcare provider is a great first step on the road to recovery.

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.

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.
  1. Merriam-Webster. Bender.

  2. Cambridge Dictionary. Bender.

  3. Kyff R. Vocabulary on a bender: The origin of boozy words. Hartford Courant.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Binge drinking.

  5. Eriksson CJ. The role of acetaldehyde in the actions of alcohol (Update 2000). Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2006;25(s1):15S-32S. doi:10.1111/j.1530-0277.2001.tb02369.x

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol use and your health.

  7. Linden-Carmichael AN, Vasilenko SA, Lanza ST, Maggs JL. High-intensity drinking versus heavy episodic drinking: Prevalence rates and relative odds of alcohol use disorder across adulthood. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2017;41(10):1754-1759. doi:10.1111/acer.13475

Additional Reading

By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.