How to Stop Binge Drinking
How does binge drinking differ from normal alcohol consumption? Every individual consumes different amounts of alcohol at different times, but sometimes we consume too much. In those cases, not only are we overserved, but our blood alcohol concentration is at or above 0.08 g/dl, or over the legal limit for human consumption.
What Is Considered Binge Drinking?
According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the act of binge drinking is engaging in a drinking pattern that involves consuming enough alcohol to reach a BAC of 0.08 g/dl. If someone is driving a vehicle under the influence and has a BAC of 0.08 g/dl, they not only put themselves and others at risk for harm but are breaking the law. For these reasons, when any drinker is binging on alcohol and their blood alcohol is over this level, they are contributing to the national public health concern that is binge drinking.
To reach this level of intoxication, a male usually will have had five or more drinks, while a woman will have had four or more drinks, within a two-hour period. Binge drinking usually involves drinking far more than this, however, and this is when devastating consequences occur due to excess consumption. Binge drinking doesn’t have to fit this exact rule, however. The classification of binge drinking varies not only on a person’s BMI but on the type of alcohol they consume since beverages can have different alcohol percentages.
Binge Drinking vs Excessive Drinking
A common misconception is that binge drinking and excessive drinking are the same. Although they are similar in some aspects, binge drinking can fall into the category of excessive drinking but not vice-versa. To clarify the difference, excessive drinking is defined as “the consumption of four or more drinks on any day of the week, eight or more drinks per week for women specifically, and five or more drinks on any day, or fifteen or more drinks weekly for men.”
The denial and excuses that occur alongside binge drinking can include:
- Excessive drinking is not synonymous with binge drinking
- The individual may be a heavy drinker, but they drink throughout the week, not all at once
- Binge drinkers don’t have a regular drinking problem
Although not all people who binge drink are alcoholics, binge drinking certainly is a form of alcohol abuse that puts the drinker and their loved ones at risk for traumatic, yet preventable, situations. Not to mention, binge drinking has been proven to increase the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder in the future.
Binge Drinking Statistics
You are not alone if you or a loved one are struggling with binge drinking.
- Current research estimates that about one out of every six US adults binge drink, on average, six to eight drinks per month. This means that Americans are drinking about seventeen billion drinks every year, with about five hundred per drinker.
- The population that participates in this life-threatening behavior the most often is adults ranging from 18 to 34 years old. Many of these adults are under the legal age to consume alcohol in the first place, while others are old enough to know better than to damage their bodies this way.
- According to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World, 90% of the drinks that are consumed during binge drinking are consumed by drinkers who are under the legal age.
Harmful Effects of Binge Drinking
Binge drinking may have become a pattern of behavior that seems normal, but it is most definitely not. In fact, from a medical perspective, individuals who binge drink make themselves even more prone to harmful health issues, including:
- Chronic heart and liver disease
- Unsafe sex and potential for sexually transmitted diseases
- Unintentional pregnancies, miscarriages, and fetal alcohol syndrome
- Menstrual and impotence issues
- Cancer, especially mouth and esophagus cancer
- Declining academic and work performance
- Poor cognitive function
- Neurological issues such as dementia
- Nerve damage
- Risk of injuries and accidents leading to death
- Alcohol poisoning
- Automobile accidents
- Inability to walk or perform normal functions
- Legal issues associated with illegal substance abuse
Binge drinking is not only harmful to the drinker but everyone around the individual as well. It only takes one episode of binge drinking to destroy beloved relationships and cause families to fall apart. Just one episode of binge drinking also has the potential to become fatal, most commonly through a drunk driving accident. The cascading effects of binge drinking not only affect the drinker and their loved ones but even society as a whole. Binge drinking on a societal level leads to increased and unnecessary use of health care resources, criminal justice costs, and decreased productivity.
Signs & Symptoms of Binge Drinking
In order to stop binge drinking, individuals must acknowledge their behavior and understand the long-term effects of their actions. There are many signs that indicate an individual is struggling with binge drinking.
- An obvious sign of binge drinking is blacking out. Blacking out usually involves consuming enough alcohol that their memories stop forming and the alcohol physically puts their bodies to sleep. If an individual has passed out after a night of drinking, it is usually evident that they have been binge drinking. If this behavior becomes frequent or has happened a few times in a short period of time, this is certainly binge drinking behavior.
Memory Loss and Forgetfulness
- Memory loss and forgetfulness go hand in hand with blacking out. It is almost always the case that after an individual passes out after a night of drinking, they cannot remember the events and actions they carried out after excessive alcohol consumption. Here is a disturbing yet common example: consider when someone meets a romantic interest at a party and participates in sexual contact with that individual. The binge drinker loses the opportunity to provide clear consent, engage in a necessary conversation about their actions, and possibly, has no ability to remember the name and physical appearance of the person they were sexually active with.
- When an individual binge drinks, it is understandable how the user’s obligations and responsibilities also suffer. Heavy drinking prevents the person from carrying out their duties the next day. These consequences can include painful hangovers or lack of energy. The after-effects of alcohol use can lead to many issues in an individual’s personal life, including academic, professional, romantical, and fiscal consequences.
- One of the more impactful side effects of binge drinking is the risky behavior that results. Binge drinking can make individuals prone to different types of behaviors that are dangerous to themselves and others around them. The common examples often associated with reckless drinking are unsafe sex, domestic abuse, fighting, risky gambling, and operating a vehicle while under the influence. Risky behavior also intensifies when mixed with other drugs, including prescription medications. When certain drugs, even those that are prescribed to the individual, are mixed with alcohol, the effects can be life-threatening, either due to their interaction with alcohol or because some drugs mask the effects of alcohol, making the person drink even more.
Making Excuses to Justify Behavior
- Another sign of a binge drinking disorder is when individuals need to justify their behavior because of certain situations that call for drinking. For example, when some people think of the weekend, they think of alcohol. It is definitely a sign that a drinker is suffering from a binge drinking disorder when they drink to excess just because they do not have work the next day or other obligations. This allows them to use the excuse that they have the whole next day to nurse their hangover and take care of their disruptive behavior from the night before without getting in the way of their commitments.
- For others, the holidays are a reason to drink, either in the form of celebration or to escape from the stress of the holidays and family drama. It is healthy and normal during the holidays to enjoy time with loved ones by sipping on a cocktail or two in order to relax and find levity while in the company of others. Unfortunately, this enjoyment of drinking is eliminated when a person chooses to binge drink, as the drinker no longer has any awareness of the situation around them.
- Additionally, social circumstances make it easy for the drinker, who may have underlying issues associated with their drinking, to justify, defend, deny, or rationalize the quantity and pace of their drinking. A misconception that these drinkers have is that just because they do not drink to this extent every day, they do not have a problem. Binge drinking is often a warning sign of many other alcohol-related issues even if the individual only binge drinks on just one holiday, one weekend evening, or one time. This excessive behavior is still an episode of binge drinking, even if it does not occur multiple times per month like the national average.
Inability to Stop Drinking
- An alarming issue for some individuals occurs when they do not have intentions of binge drinking but do anyway. These individuals have the intention of enjoying one or two drinks casually but are unable to stop drinking until they reach a blackout threshold or someone physically cuts them off. In this case, the intention is important because it indicates that these individuals do not have enough self-control to cut themselves off or cope with stress and emotional challenges on their own.
Seeking Help to Stop Binge Drinking
Having an issue with binge drinking does not inevitably make you an alcoholic. There is hope for a healthy balanced lifestyle that keeps you and your loved ones safe. But this is only possible if the individual is willing to make a change in both their behaviors and their coping mechanisms. Even though there is not a formal diagnosis for binge drinking disorder as there is for eating disorders and alcohol use disorder, there is still a reason to seek professional help since binge drinking can lead to dangerous behavior and fatal consequences.
Individuals who binge drink should seek a mental health professional that specializes in addiction or substance abuse if this behavior has caused a life-threatening event or a major disruption to their daily life. While some of these binge drinkers may not have a dependency on alcohol, a clinician who specializes in this field can help the person navigate, process, and begin to understand and control the thoughts that ignite their binge behaviors. Having someone to talk to helps the individual gain insight into what situations bring up certain emotions and why.
At Boardwalk Recovery Center, we offer hands-on support to help our clients understand why they use the bottle to bottle up their emotions. Through our treatment program, clients let their emotions come to the surface and open up about why they could not express how they felt in the moment and why alcohol was the only outlet available to them at the time. We remind our clients that they have an entire support system at our center, as well as those at home who are there for them in times of need.
We encourage patients to find healthy outlets and a balanced lifestyle in order to decrease the risk of emotional ups and downs. To help, we introduce mindfulness meditation, yoga, breathwork, surfing, exercise, self-expression through art or music, and most importantly, training on how to connect with others who understand and relate to the same struggles and emotions.
Overall, our clients learn that staying in touch with the people that care about them and love them is easier while alcohol-free. We remind clients that who they are sober is who they are naturally. We work to develop self-love and compassion for this authentic self the client may have missed for so long. All of these aspects in the recovery process can combat binge drinking and help prevent negative associated consequences.
If you are concerned about your or a loved one’s binge drinking there are many resources to help you regain your health. Call Boardwalk Recovery for more information on how we can help heal the damage caused by alcohol and develop a treatment plan that will improve health and quality of life.