Binge drinking is one sort of alcohol abuse that is often overlooked. Binge drinkers typically drink only a few days per week, or month. They schedule their drinking periods around their responsibilities, such as work and school, so their partying often is overlooked as blowing off steam, social drinking, or otherwise normal. However, binge drinking can lead to the same, or worse, consequences as chronic, daily drinking.

According to the CDC, binge drinking is defined as times when one’s blood alcohol content (BAC) reaches .08 percent or above. This is the legal threshold for drunkenness and men breach this limit when they drink five or more alcoholic beverages within two hours. Women, on average, exceed .08 when they drink four or more drinks in the same amount of time.

Approximately 16 percent of the population binge drinks four or more times per month. During these sessions, men drink 8.7 beverages and women consume 5.7. Younger people aged 18-24 drink the heaviest during their binges, averaging 8.9 drinks and this figure tapers off to 5.6 drinks for those aged 65 or older.

Binge drinking consists of:

  • Drinking five or more alcoholic beverages in two hours for a man.
  • Imbibing four or more alcoholic beverages in two hours for a woman.
  • Blood alcohol level at or above .08 percent.

Binge drinking and alcohol abuse

Since alcohol abuse is defined as heavy drinking on five or more instances in a month, binge drinkers are typically at risk for becoming alcohol abusers, or alcoholics. The greater the number of drinks, and the frequency with which one drinks them, are factors in how likely it is to transform from a binge drinker to a full-blown alcohol abuser. Studies have shown that certain demographics are perhaps more at risk than others.

Alcohol abuse includes five or more binge drinking sessions in a month.

The CDC shows that men, those with less than a high school education, and the disabled are the types of binge drinkers with the most drinking episodes per month. The less-educated tend to come the closest to full abuse, as a group, with 4.7 binge-drinking episodes per month. Men in general are known to drink 4.6 times per month, and Caucasian binge drinkers lead other ethnicities, with 4.1 episodes in a month.

While heavy binge-drinking behavior does pose serious risks to health and safety, a binge drinker is not necessarily alcohol-dependent. Most do not experience withdrawal symptoms when they are not drinking, and frequently binge drinkers outgrow their heavy-drinking patterns as a course of growing up. Other heavy drinkers use alcohol to manage a traumatic emotional time, such as the loss of a loved one, divorce, or some other difficult event. Their drinking often normalizes as their pain recedes, after a few months.

Others are not quite so lucky. Their binge-drinking patterns will continue, or intensify over time. When binge drinkers begin to experience negative physical and social consequences as a result of their drinking, they have often crossed the line from binge-drinker to serious alcohol abuse. Following a binge, they might experience shakes, crave alcohol after even a short period without a drink, and when they do take a drink, they might not be able to stop drinking until they have become quite inebriated.

Health issues from binge drinking

Binge drinkers run a significant risk of incurring health issues as a direct result of their alcohol consumption. Even a single binge-drinking session will result in measurable liver function changes, and excessive drinking often leads to safety issues. People who have imbibed too much alcohol are known to have poor coordination and thus may experience harmful falls. Drunken people are prone to leave cigarettes burning, stoves alight, and even sleep through sounds such as babies crying, fire alarms, and important phone calls. Judgment is also impaired; causing poor decisions that might have social or professional implications. When binge drinkers take the wheel of a car they are at a higher risk for automobile accidents and they also run the risk of legal consequences following careless, or reckless driving. A DUI charge can carry hefty consequences for the drinker’s personal, professional, and financial life.

Violent behavior is also an all-too-common event when excess alcohol is involved. People are more likely to act on homicidal or suicidal impulses while drinking, attack their romantic partners, and even commit sexual assault while binge drinking. While most studies focus on the alcohol consumption of rape victims, their attackers were most likely involved in heavy drinking, as well. It’s unlikely that women became less able to control a victim-impulse, but that their attackers became less capable of controlling violent tendencies as a result of a binge-drinking session.

Health issues resulting from binge drinking

  • Bumps and bruises resulting from drunken clumsiness
  • Violent altercations
  • Drug use escalates to include hard drugs
  • Drug use escalates to include hard drugs
  • Risky sexual activity
  • Forgetfulness with cigarettes that result in fires
  • Poor diet
  • Alcohol dependence

Binge drinkers may also be prone to alcohol poisoning. Since they may drink a lot in a session, their tolerances might recede during their dry periods. While their tolerance might still be quite high, they may exceed their limits and fully toxify their system with alcohol.

If a problem drinker continues their excessive alcohol intake over time, they also run the risk of kidney damage, liver damage, and a physical dependence on alcohol. Heavy alcohol use is also often correlated with hard drug use, which complicates the substance abuse picture. Binge drinkers often resort to amphetamines or cocaine to keep the party going when they would normally be asleep. Not only do these substances carry physical and psychological consequences, but the potential cross-addiction may result in complications when they decide to get sober.

What does binge drinking look like?

While some consider a binge to be a series of days spent in various stages of inebriation. Technically binge drinking can be relegated to individual sessions where participants reach a state of legal drunkenness. These sessions may be separated by days, weeks, or even months.

Binge drinkers often are hiding in plain sight. They often hold steady jobs, are frequently highly successful, and can throw great parties. Binge drinkers may be doctors, lawyers, preachers, or teachers. Since they don’t drink every day, their alcohol intake might seem perfectly normal. Before their problem advances, they are able to have a single drink after work with colleagues, or abstain for several days, even weeks, at a time. As the problem progresses, they will find themselves less able to simply stop drinking after only one alcoholic beverage.

Binge drinkers can find innumerable ways to justify their drinking. The most common way is to point out that they are not living on the street, are maintaining a steady job, and have relationships. They might also seek out articles that proclaim the health benefits hidden in the ingredients of wine, while ignoring all of the downsides associated with ethyl alcohol. It’s not uncommon for a problem drinker to disparage those who use other drugs and thereby seek to separate themselves by comparison.

On the other hand, binge drinking can be a very scary phenomenon. Some will let their stress levels rise until they try to manage it all with a session of heavy drinking. Their negative feelings might be released in violent, destructive ways. A jilted lover, for instance, might call his former partner or seek her out in person. This can lead to very negative consequences, including violence and police actions.

Signs of a binge drinker include, but are not limited to:

  • Dismisses concerns of others. The binge drinker might claim that they have everything under control and seek to characterize their drinking as normal and their critics as prudish or ignorant.
  • Drinks more alcohol than intended. A binge drinker might meet a friend for a drink, but try to extend the drinking with another round. The binge drinker might see that their friend is not interested in becoming intoxicated and then find other opportunities for drinking.
  • Frequent, patterned drinking. Often, as binge drinking progresses, the drinker might establish certain patterns of behavior. They might start the weekend a bit early with drinks on Thursday night, followed by excessive drinking on Friday and Saturday, too.
  • Extreme hangovers. Younger binge drinkers tend to have less trouble in this area, but many binge drinkers will start experiencing more and more severe hangovers as their drinking progresses.
  • Risky behaviors while drinking. Binge drinkers might engage in high-risk activities such as driving while intoxicated, gambling, or inciting violent altercations.
  • Includes drugs in the binge. As binge drinking develops, the drinker might want to keep their parties going later and later. Thus, they frequently resort to using higher-risk drugs such as amphetamines or cocaine. Others might want a more sedative effect and add opiates or benzodiazepines to their drug regimen.
  • Erratic and unwise choices. These may include partnering with someone outside of their marriage, harassing or obsessing over a former lover, or pulling foolish pranks that are dangerous or wantonly destructive.

How to get help

Binge drinkers who are finding themselves in more and more trouble can find help. Even those who have encountered only minimal predicaments may need an outside agent to help them move on with their lives. It is possible for many binge drinkers to regain a healthy relationship with alcohol, or to put the bottle down for good.

If you or a loved one is in a binge drinking cycle, find a licensed mental health specialist, a counselor who specializes in addictions. These can be found either on a one-on-one basis or within a treatment setting. They can help you assess the situation create a plan to help you curb your binge drinking.

Help is available. Call a professional today.

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