Binge Drinking: Definition, Signs, Health Risks and How To Stop
Written by Jonathan Strum
Often, people who binge drink don’t stop to think extensively about their amount of alcohol use or how much they plan to drink in a particular time frame. However, binge drinking is a risky behavior that can lead to a number of serious health consequences.
Binge Drinking Definition
Binge drinking doesn’t just refer to using a lot of alcohol — it is also a medical term with a specific definition. Because alcohol affects men and women differently, binge drinking is defined separately for each gender. Binge drinking is considered:
- Five or more drinks on one occasion for men
- Four or more drinks on one occasion for women
Binge drinking is more common in young adults, especially males with above-average incomes. One in six adults binge drink, and a quarter of these individuals binge drink at least once a week.
What Is Considered Binge Drinking?
When determining what is considered binge drinking, it is important to understand what a “drink” actually is. While a drink can be used to refer to any single helping of alcohol, medical professionals have developed a measure called the “standard drink.” Because different drinks contain different amounts of alcohol, this allows each type of drink to be compared.
A standard drink contains 0.6 oz, or 14 grams, of pure alcohol. This amount of alcohol is normally present in a 12 oz can of beer, 5 oz of table wine or a 1.5 oz shot of distilled spirits. By this standard, four or five of any of these would be considered binge drinking.
Binge Drinking Effects and Health Risks
Binge drinking has both short- and long-term negative effects on your health. While many people understand the risks of heavy, prolonged alcohol use, fewer people are aware of the risks that a single episode of binge drinking can create.
Short-Term Effects of Binge Drinking
Binge drinking causes heavy intoxication, which can lead to serious short-term consequences that can be fatal. Some of the short-term effects of binge drinking can include:
- Alcohol poisoning
- Injuries due to alcohol intoxication
- Immune system suppression
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Unplanned pregnancy
The most significant of these effects is alcohol poisoning, which can lead to permanent injury or even death. Binge drinking is one of the main ways to get alcohol poisoning, and people who drink heavily in a single episode are at risk for this potentially fatal complication.
Long-Term Effects of Binge Drinking
A single episode of binge drinking will primarily cause short-term effects, but most people who binge drink don’t just do it once. The long-term effects of binge drinking can be caused by a single episode, but the risks and intensity of these effects grow with each episode. Long-term effects of binge drinking include:
- Addiction to alcohol
- Alcohol-related health problems
- Liver failure
- High blood pressure
- Kidney problems
- Poor performance in school or work
Binge drinking is common in college settings but is connected with decreased academic performance and a lower rate of degree completion.
Binge Drinking Disorder
Binge drinking disorder is not officially a medical term, but many people use it to describe someone who binge drinks frequently and has difficulty saying no to getting drunk. While binge drinking disorder is not a medical diagnosis, it is quite likely that someone described as having this disorder has alcohol use disorder (AUD).
Also called alcoholism, alcohol addiction or alcohol dependence, AUD causes someone to drink even though it causes negative consequences. AUD is considered a medical condition and must be diagnosed by a licensed health care professional.
Is Binge Drinking Alcoholism?
Binge drinking does not always mean someone has alcoholism or is an alcoholic. Binge drinking is an action or time when someone drank more than recommended in under two hours (four drinks for women, five drinks for men). Alcoholism is used to describe an alcohol use disorder (AUD), a clinical diagnosis of a chronic illness where someone cannot control their drinking despite negative consequences.
Although moments of binge drinking does not immediately mean someone has alcohol use disorder, binge drinking is often present in people who have AUD. If you binge drink regularly, it may be beneficial to seek out help for alcoholism. Only a licensed physician or mental health professional can diagnose someone with AUD and get them addiction treatment.
How To Stop Binge Drinking
Stopping binge drinking may be difficult for some people, but there are several things that you can do to help yourself stop binge drinking. These include:
- Examine your drinking habits: Habits can become so routine we don’t even recognize them. Examine how you use alcohol and how much you normally drink so that you can see where you need to improve.
- Avoid environments where binge drinking occurs: This may be a place or even a group of friends who like to binge drink together. Avoiding bars and partying with people who like to binge drink can help you to stop.
- Fill the time you would normally use to binge drink: This is the weekend for many people, but it could be any time. If there is a time you normally binge drink, fill this time with something else ahead of time. This will make it easier to say no and keep your mind off of drinking.
- Consider giving up alcohol altogether: For many people, using alcohol can be an all-or-nothing proposition. It may be easier to give up binge drinking if you stop drinking altogether.
It is important to remember that if you use alcohol frequently or binge drink at least once a week, you may see some withdrawal symptoms if you limit alcohol use. If you start to experience withdrawal symptoms, it is best to seek medical help right away.
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Why Can’t I Stop Drinking?
Not everyone can just stop drinking. In fact, one of the main symptoms of AUD is that alcohol use is hard to stop. This happens because alcohol affects receptors in your brain that release endorphins. Endorphins are designed to help reinforce behaviors. When endorphins are released by alcohol use, they reinforce the behavior of alcohol use, causing chemical changes in the brain that make you want alcohol. AUD exists when these changes make it difficult or impossible to stop using alcohol.
Help To Stop Binge Drinking
Binge drinking that is connected with AUD may seem difficult or even impossible to stop by yourself. In these cases, professional medical treatment may be necessary to help you stop drinking.
Alcohol Rehab Treatment
Alcohol detox and rehab involve going through rehab treatment after allowing your system to completely detox from alcohol. Rehab is designed to help you overcome the chemical changes that alcohol has caused within your brain. It also helps you retrain your brain and psyche to overcome alcohol cravings and become more healthy. Alcohol rehab may be inpatient, which requires you to live at the facility, or outpatient, which involves regular visits for treatment.
Medication To Help Stop Drinking
There are several medications that can help someone to stop drinking. These medications are most effective when used in conjunction with rehab. Medications to help you stop drinking include:
- Naltrexone: This medication decreases alcohol cravings and is one of the best alcohol abuse medications available.
- Acamprosate: This medication can only be used once you stop drinking, but it helps to balance brain chemistry and reduce alcohol cravings.
- Disulfiram: This medication causes you to become very ill every time you drink alcohol, which provides an incentive to stay sober by removing enjoyment from drinking.
- Topiramate: While not technically intended for alcohol use, this medication can reduce the pleasure alcohol causes, making it easier to stop drinking.
- Gabapentin: Like topiramate, this medication is not technically intended for alcohol use, but it does help to reduce alcohol cravings.
You should only use these medications if directed to do so by a doctor, as they must be used correctly to be effective and safe.
Therapy for Alcoholism
Therapy for alcoholism typically describes the non-medical treatments for AUD that focus on helping individuals change their behavior instead of changing their brain chemistry. However, therapy is almost always used in conjunction with medical treatments. Therapy can involve speaking with a trained therapist who helps you to explore the basis for alcoholic behaviors. Therapy can also involve working with a group of others who are also trying to overcome alcoholism.
Local Support Groups
Support groups are not a medical treatment, but they can provide you with the motivation to stay sober while also helping you to be an encouragement to others. Support groups are often available locally and can be a good addition to professional treatments.
Alcohol Rehab Near Me
At The Recovery Village, we understand that recovering from alcohol addiction is difficult. That is why we offer professional alcohol addiction treatment in many locations throughout the country.
Our mission is to help as many people as possible gain freedom from addiction. If you or someone you love is looking for professional treatment near Columbus, Ohio, contact The Recovery Village Columbus today to learn how we can help you achieve a healthier, alcohol-free future. If you live elsewhere or are looking to travel for treatment, The Recovery Village treatment network includes facilities in:
- Umatilla, Florida
- Orlando, Florida
- Lake Worth, Florida
- Columbus, Ohio
- Palmer Lake, Colorado
- Ridgefield, Washington
- Cherry Hill, New Jersey
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National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “What Is A Standard Drink?” Accessed March 11, 2022.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose.” May 2021. Accessed March 11, 2022.
Jennison, Karen M. “The Short‐Term Effects and Unintended […]ar Follow‐Up Study.” The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, July 7, 2009. Accessed March 11, 2022.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “What Is Binge Drinking?” December 2021. Accessed March 11, 2022.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” April 2021. Accessed March 11, 2022.
Drinkaware. “Binge drinking.” Accessed March 11, 2022.
Orrange, Sharon. “Which Medications Work Best to Help Me Stop Drinking?” GoodRx, June 4, 2020. Accessed March 11, 2022.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.” August 2021. Accessed March 11, 2022.