Excessive Alcohol Use Known as “Binge Drinking” is Common
Binge drinking is one of the most common and dangerous patterns of excessive alcohol use in the United States. As defined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 grams percent or higher. This typically happens when a man consumes more than 4 drinks, or when a woman consumes more than 3 drinks in a 2-hour period. While many people who binge drink are not alcohol dependent, this type of drinking can lead to dependence on alcohol.
Alcohol Use Statistics
One in six American adults binge drink about four times a month. While binge drinking, an adult typically consumes about seven drinks. There are almost 17 billion drinks consumed during a binge by adults each year. This is about 467 binge drinks per binge drinker.
While the drinking age is 21 in the US, minors often find a way to consume alcohol as well. Binge drinking can start as early as 18 years old, and sometimes earlier.
Binge drinking is also common in younger adults from 18 to 34 years old. However, more than half of the total binge drinks are consumed each year are by people older than 34 years old.
Binge drinking by men is twice as common as binge drinking by woman. Men consume four out of five of all binge drinks imbibed every year.
Studies find that binge drinking is more common among people with household incomes of $75,000 or more. In addition, binge drinkers often have higher educational levels. This means it happens more frequently.
Although studies say binge drinkers with lower incomes and educational levels consume more binge drinks per year on average, they do it less frequently.
Over 90% of U.S. adults who drink excessively reported that they have done so within 30 days of being surveyed.
Most people under 21 who drink alcohol reported binge drinking, often consuming large amounts.
The Risks of Excessive Drinking
Alcohol use is associated with several physical and emotional issues. The dangers of alcohol use are related to the amount of alcohol that a person consumes, not to the type of alcohol consumed. Binge drinking beer or wine can result in an increased potential for negative effects compared to the occasional use of liquor.
Here are some risks and health concerns people experience from binge drinking:
- Alcohol Dependence – A dependence on alcohol can develop in people who consume large quantities of alcohol frequently.
- Higher Risk of Chronic Diseases – These include high heart disease, blood pressure, liver disease, and stroke have been reported.
- Cancer – People who binge drink have an increased risk to be diagnosed with various types of cancer.
- Unintentional Injuries – These injuries can include car accidents, fall injuries, and alcohol poisoning.
- Violent Acts – Violent acts have been reported to be associated with binge drinking. These include homicide, suicide, and sexual assault.
- Legal Problems – Underage drinking is against the law causing young adults who drink to have problems with the law. Since it also affects your judgement, you may end up in from of a judge for actions you took while impaired.
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases – Alcohol affects a person’s judgement and inhibitions. This can lead to unprotected sex causing sexually transmitted diseases.
- Unintended Pregnancy for Women – Judgement and inhibition issues while binge drinking can also lead to unintended pregnancy.
- Miscarriage in Pregnant Women – Alcohol dependence and binge drinking can cause a woman to lose the fetus.
- Memory Problems – Binge drinking affects the brain’s ability to recall memories.
- Neurological issues – These include nerve pain, movement disorders, and dementia.
Reducing Binge Drinking
Binge drinking costs the US almost $191 billion in 2010. These costs resulted from losses in workplace productivity, health care expenditures, and criminal justice costs.
Various strategies have been recommended to reduce binge drinking by the US Preventive Services Task Force. These strategies include:
- Increasing taxes on purchases of alcohol
- Limiting the number of places to purchase alcohol in a given area.
- Holding alcohol retailers responsible for harm caused by unlawful alcohol sales to minors.
- Restricting the days and hours of retail alcohol sales.
- Enforcing laws against underage drinking
- Enforcing laws against driving while under the influence of alcohol.
- Maintaining government control on the rules that control alcohol sales.
- Screening and counseling for alcohol abuse.
When Does Binge Drinking Become Alcoholism?
Many people who consume alcohol have engaged in binge drinking. At Pride Recovery Center, we believe any instance of binge drinking is problematic.
People who drink until they are legally intoxicated is significantly more likely to experience issues created by poor judgement, compromised decision-making, and loss of emotional control. These people have a greater risk of being involved in accidents, falls, and violent confrontations than individuals who do not drink to excess.
Any individual who partakes in regular binge drinking is at higher risk to develop an alcohol use disorder compared to those who only drink on occasion. While partaking in binge drinking is not enough of a reason to diagnose someone with alcohol use disorder, habitual binge drinkers are far more likely to have an alcohol use disorder diagnosis than individuals who do not.
Whether or not someone is diagnosed with alcohol use disorder is related to the effects that alcohol use has on their life, how it affects their ability to function each day, and their ability to control their use of alcohol.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that low-risk drinking behavior for men consists of 14 or fewer alcoholic drinks per week, with no more than four drinks consumed on a single occasion. Low risk drinking for women is identified as no more than three drinks on a single occasion, with a total of seven or less alcoholic drinks per week.
This data indicates that less than 2% who drink at, or below, these levels are diagnosed with alcohol use disorder. However, over 25% of individuals who drink alcohol above those levels are diagnosed with alcohol use disorder. This shows how repeated binge drinking is a risk for the development of an alcohol use disorder diagnosis.
People try to rationalize their behavior by looking for information that can make them exceptions to the rule. Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or strengthens one’s prior personal beliefs or hypotheses. It is a type of cognitive bias. People have been known to use confirmation bias to rationalize their drinking problem.
A person who binge drinks may look for potential benefits of their alcohol abuse to rationalize excessive drinking. If a person truly wants to determine if they have an alcohol use disorder, they need to evaluate their actions objectively.
If someone is not able to objectively look at their behavior, we recommend you encourage them to speak with a doctor, therapist, or other addiction professional. The dangers of excessive alcohol consumption speak for themselves. Binge drinking can affect your overall health, future, and everyone around you. Getting help for binge drinking is the first step in the process of changing your life for the better.
What to Do When Binge Drinking Becomes Alcohol Dependence
Repeated binge drinking is a precursor to dependence on alcohol, a formal alcohol use disorder. If you frequently binge drink, it is important that you seek treatment with a licensed mental health professional who specializes in addictive behaviors. A mental health professional can perform a formal assessment of your behavior and make treatment and therapy recommendations based on your unique needs. At Pride Recovery Center, our Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) can help you recover from alcohol dependence, and our Intensive Outpatient Treatment Program (IOP) can help you maintain long lasting sobriety. If you, or someone you love, has an issue with binge drinking or alcohol dependence, give us a call and discuss how we can help.