Binge drinking involves drinking to a point where your blood alcohol level is .08 grams percent or above. This typically equates to four standard alcoholic drinks for women and five for men over a two-hour time period. A standard drink is considered one of the following:
- 12 ounces of regular beer
- 8 to 9 ounces of malt liquor
- 5 ounces of unfortified wine
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof hard liquor
Drinking any combination of these in quick succession constitutes binge drinking. Following this type of dangerous pattern falls under the characteristics of alcohol use disorder and could be the jumping off point toward alcohol addiction.
Other signs of binge drinking include an inability to limit the number of drinks you consume, experiencing blackouts, skirting responsibilities as a result of drinking, and seeing negative changes to your health and well-being.
Inability to Stop at One or Two Drinks
This inability to stop at one or two alcoholic drinks is one of the main telling signs of binge drinking. Drinking alcohol is commonly seen as a social activity. However, if you are drinking twice as fast or as much as your friends, without slowing down, it’s indicative of how you perceive drinking.
Rather than partaking in it as a way to engage with friends or colleagues, the goal with binge drinking is simply to get drunk. Do you often drink longer than anyone else? Do you find it difficult to limit yourself when drinking? If this sounds like you, it’s likely you’re already developing dependent behavior.
Frequent Blackout Experiences or Memory Lapses
Being unable or unwilling to control the amount of alcohol you drink leads to another of the top signs of a binge drinking problem: blackouts. Blackouts are sometimes referred to as alcohol-induced amnesia. It means you can drink to a point where you have limited or no memory of a certain time period.
The amount of alcohol it takes to cause a blackout varies from person to person. Although, some people don’t experience blackouts at all. While this is one of the key warning signs of binge drinking, it is not the only one. If you do not experience blackout episodes, it doesn’t automatically assume your drinking activities aren’t dangerous. Experiencing blackouts can cause you to have difficulty walking, talking, or making rational decisions. It can also cause vomiting, headaches, and dry mouth, among other symptoms.
Choosing to Drink Over Responsibilities or Activities
When binge drinking has started to affect your daily life, it’s time to take a good look at your regular habits. Drinking to the point of excess has effects on the body that often linger into the next day. Hangovers can affect your level of productivity and interaction with others. This can result in problems at work, among friends, or with other interpersonal relationships.
Do you choose drinking over meeting your regular obligations? Or, have you become isolated to hide how much you drink? Answering “yes” to these types of questions illustrate an alcohol dependency. Rather than drinking in moderation, regular binge drinking can quickly become a replacement for your healthy routine.
Negative Changes to Your Health
The short-term effects of binge drinking can result in alcohol poisoning. It can lead to alcohol-related car accidents and other risky incidents. Drinking to excess lowers your ability to function properly and make good decisions. Binge drinking is hard on your liver, pancreas, and stomach.
As the body works hard to process your alcohol consumption, it can be inflamed and irritated when too much is consumed at once. Binge drinking can cause high blood pressure or an irregular heartbeat. Other side effects may include vomiting, blurry vision, and slurred words.
Long-term changes to your health and well-being may include cirrhosis, increased risk of heart attack, and alcohol addiction. Other listed impacts on the health include, but are not limited to:
- Digestive problems due to inflammation of the stomach
- Sexual function and menstruation issues
- Involuntary rapid eye movement
- Neurological complications, such as numbness in the hands and feet and short-term memory loss
- Weakened immune system
In addition to the ways excessive drinking makes you feel, it changes the way you act toward others. It can cause you to become irritable, anxious, and/or depressed. It’s also common to experience frequent mood shifts and lash out at those who are close to you, especially when defending your drinking habits. This leads to isolation and loneliness, which can perpetuate the cycle of binge drinking as a coping mechanism. Even binge drinking one time can trigger any of these symptoms and side effects to take place. The longer your partake in this kind of activity, the higher you are at risk for serious damage to your physical and mental health.
If you are a loved one concerned about the long-term health of a friend or family member, consider significant changes in their behavior and their relationship with alcohol. Has it affected their regular commitments? Have they become withdrawn or defensive? It can be a difficult situation to intervene, but by sharing your concerns, it can help them acknowledge there may be a problem.
Who’s at Risk For Binge Drinking?
People in the 18-24 and 25-34 age groups have the highest percentage of binge drinking events. It’s been reported that one in six U.S. adults binge drinks about four times per month. The act of binge drinking in college is common due to the prevalence of social pressures and temptations. Although the statistics lean toward college-age young adults, it can occur at any time to anyone.
People react to and have different relationships with alcohol. Binge drinking and alcohol addiction is not limited to any set age group or dedicated time in a person’s life. Any number of personal problems can cause someone to drink more than they originally intended to. For many, it’s an ongoing problem that may have begun at a young age but was never treated.
Some people are able to self-monitor and set boundaries around how much they drink. For others, this is more challenging. There are several factors that play a role. Age, gender, and overall health all determine how your body reacts to alcohol. Your history of drinking, peer influences, and current stresses all factor into how you use alcohol as a way to cope as well. These factors will also affect your response to treatment.
What To Do If Binge Drinking Becomes a Bigger Problem?
In the earlier stages of alcohol use disorder, a person may be able to limit or abstain from use on their own. With regards to binge drinking, specifically, they can choose to stick with one or two alcoholic beverages or remove themselves from situations where excessive drinking is taking place. When the body becomes dependent on alcohol, the cravings can be too powerful to face alone.
Reaching the level of alcohol addiction means the body feels like it must have alcohol in order to function normally. When the cravings aren’t met, then alcohol withdrawal symptoms take effect. These involve chronic headaches, body aches and pains, nausea, vomiting, and shakiness, among other painful and uncomfortable symptoms. For anyone who suffers from long-term alcoholism, delirium tremens and seizures may occur.
An isolated incident does not automatically lead to addiction, but signs of binge drinking alcoholism shares is an increased frequency of consumption. Early intervention is key to prevent the physiological changes in the body. If cravings become too much to manage and you have lost the ability to go without drinking on your own, seeking treatment from an alcohol addiction treatment facility is important.
Don’t Let Drinking Take Control of Your Life
The jump from binge drinking to alcohol addiction is closer than you may realize. Anytime you drink to excess or use alcohol as a way to get intoxicated or remedy problems, this is indicative of how easy it can be to become addicted. In the beginning, you have control over your choices regarding how much and how often you drink. However, once your brain requires more to feel the same effects as before, dependency changes your ability to decide.
The body is unpredictable in how it will react to alcohol. This includes how it may react when going through withdrawal symptoms from it. Due to this, it’s best to undergo treatment as part of a medically managed program. A team of psychiatrists and therapists will be on-hand to regularly monitor your health and recovery progress. They can administer medication to minimize the withdrawal symptoms as you detox to make it as comfortable as possible.
This also sets you on a pathway to achieve long-term healing. Each phase of care focuses on healing from the inside out. This means your physical symptoms are treated, but the root causes of your addiction are explored as well. Through intensive individual and group therapy, ongoing support, and a solid structure, you’ll create the strategies and foundation necessary to maintain a healthy, sober lifestyle.
When binge drinking or unhealthy drinking habits of any kind start to cause a disruption in your life, it’s helpful to turn to others for guidance. It could be the intervention you need to create a positive path and prevent any future problems from holding you back.
- Scaccia, Annamarya. “Blackouts: Causes, Side Effects, and Prevention.” Healthline.com. N.p., 22 Dec. 2016. Web. https://www.healthline.com/health/what-causes-blackouts
- Radcliffe, Shawn. “What Happens to Your Body When You Binge Drink.” Healthline Media. N.p., n.d., https://www.healthline.com/health-news/what-happens-to-your-body-when-you-binge-drink#1
- “Alcohol Use Disorder – Symptoms and Causes – Mayo Clinic.” Mayoclinic.org. N.p., 11 July 2018., https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-use-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20369243
- “Binge Drinking Is a Serious but Preventable Problem of Excessive Alcohol Use | CDC.” Cdc.gov. N.p., 6 Apr. 2020., https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm