Binge Drinking

May 26, 2016

A Dangerous Problem

The most common pattern of excessive alcohol use in the U.S. is binge drinking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An in-depth study by Medscape, LLC, found that most people involved in binge drinking are not alcohol dependent, and other sources agree. Binge drinking is, however, associated with numerous health problems. It is an activity most common among young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 but occurs more frequently among people over 65. More statistics from Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report say that greater than 50 percent of the estimated 80,000 average annual fatalities resulting from excessive alcohol consumption are associated with binge drinking. A conclusion of these studies is that one in six U.S. adults binge drink, usually often and with a high level of intensity. The CDC also says that binge drinking is involved with more than half of the alcohol consumed by adults. In addition, approximately 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by youth 20 years old and younger involves binge drinking.

What exactly is binge drinking?
Binge drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as a pattern of consuming alcohol that exceeds the legal limit for drinking and driving. In Missouri, as well as every state, it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or above. Reaching this level of intoxication typically involves four drinks for women and five drinks for men consumed in about two hours.

One standard drink, in the U.S., is defined as about 14 grams of pure alcohol. This amounts to about 12 ounces of regular beer, which has alcohol content of about five percent. One standard drink is also five ounces of wine, which is about 12 percent alcohol. Distilled spirits, or hard alcohol, contains about 40 percent alcohol; and one drink equals 1.5 ounces.

Cognitive and physiological effects of binge drinking
A study done for the American Medical Association made some alarming conclusions about the neurocognitive effects of alcohol on teenagers and college students. Children who use alcohol at age 13 and under have an increased risk of developing alcohol use disorders such as binge drinking. All underage drinkers are vulnerable to immediate consequences of alcohol consumption, including alcohol poisoning, hangover, blackouts, brain function impairment, and an elevated risk of neurodegeneration, particularly in the brain regions responsible for memory and learning. The development of transitional skills into adulthood is eroded by heavy episodic or binge drinking.

American Addiction Centers studied how alcohol impacts cognitive ability. The following are common effects of alcohol on heavy and/or chronic drinkers:
●    Diminished brain size.
●    Inability to think abstractly. 
●    Visual perception of spatial relationships of objects is lost.
●    Memory function loss.
●    Shortened attention span.

Health risk factors and potential consequences of binge drinking
Numerous sources, including the CDC, show that binge drinking is associated with the following health problems and more:

●    Unintentional injuries, which might result from falls, car collisions, burns, and drowning.
●    Intentional injuries, including sexual assault, domestic violence, and firearm injuries.
●    Alcohol poisoning.
●    Liver disease.
●    Cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure and stroke.
●    Neurological damage.
●    Unintended pregnancy.
●    Children born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. 
●    Poor diabetes control.
●    Sexually transmitted diseases.

SIDEBAR: The tendency of college students to binge drink
Researchers at the University of Alabama in Birmingham studied binge drinking and the alarming rise of the dangerous activity among college students. The study found that of the approximately 1,825 students between 18 and 24 years of age who die annually from alcohol-related injuries, such as car crashes, 20 percent of them meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder. In addition, one in four college students say that they have experienced negative consequences academically due to binge drinking, including lower grades, failing papers or exams, and missing classes.

Signs that a binge drinker is an alcoholic
Binge drinkers often don’t recognize they have a drinking problem, mostly because they aren’t drinking every day, according to Gregory Smith, M.D., a prescription addiction specialist at the Comprehensive Pain Relief Group in Los Angeles.

According to George Koob, PhD, quoted in Prevention magazine, there has recently been a five percent increase in the number of people who binge drink. That comes to about a million more people drinking more than five to 10 drinks in one sitting.

The following are signs that a binge drinker may be an alcoholic:
●    If you frequently drink more than you intended or more than you realized, you may have a serious drinking problem. 
●    If you don’t drink every day but you do drink heavily every weekend.
●    If you become an emboldened risk-taker when you drink, it’s a sign you’re drinking too much. The NIAAA says that about 60 percent of all fatal drownings and burn injuries as well as 40 percent of fatal car wrecks and falls and 50 percent of all sexual assaults are associated with alcohol. 
●    If your usual routines and responsibilities begin to fall by the wayside because of hangovers, you could be falling into the trap of alcoholism.
●    When co-workers, family members, and friends begin telling you they’re concerned about your drinking habits, it’s time to take notice. Alcoholism is a serious problem and can do horrific damage to your life, potentially costing your health, your family, and your job.
●    If you begin forgetting parts of the nights when you’ve been drinking, the memory loss is a possible sign of an alcohol addiction.

How to stop binge drinking
The Right Step, an addiction treatment center, provides insights to help people give up the hazardous practice of binge drinking. For a person to stop binge drinking, an important first step is to be honest that it has become a pattern behavior. Most binge drinkers have not become physically dependent on alcohol. If heavy drinking is an occasional habit, consider the potential health consequences. Have friends and family members told you they’re concerned about you? 

You may have noticed for yourself a problem with binge drinking. Identify why you drink heavily and the negative consequences of your drinking that have made you want to stop.

Try cutting back on your drinking. Your level of success depends on how dependent you’ve become on alcohol. It’s not unusual for a binge drinker to want to cut back but then to naturally continue drinking, in the usual pattern, as inhibitions are lowered and good intentions are forgotten.

Abstinence is sometimes the only solution to out-of-control binge drinking. There are alternate methods that can work, however. Start by staying off of alcohol for anywhere between a month and six months, to cleanse your system. Then designate an accountability partner, who checks on you and encourages positive life choices. 

If you can’t cut back or quit, seek help through a 12-step program in your area. Twelve-step programs are proven to help people overcome alcohol addictions and habitual binge drinking.

About the Writer

Stephanie McHugh

Contributing Writer

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