Alcohol is a unique kind of poison. The health risks involved with drinking it are well-documented. Even with a possible link between certain types of alcohol and heart health, the risks still outweigh the benefits. But if even moderate drinking isn’t that beneficial, what can excessive alcohol use like binge drinking do to the body?
Binge drinking is dangerous
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings your blood alcohol level to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after four drinks for women and after five drinks for men in the span of two hours.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines binge drinking as five or more alcohol beverages on the same occasion on five or more days in past month. Additionally, low-risk drinking is described as no more than three drinks on a single day and no more than seven drinks per week for women, and for men no more than four drinks in a single day and no more than 14 drinks per week. The NIAAA also says that about two in 100 people who drink within these limits have an alcohol use disorder.
Aside from the scientific definitions, binge drinking is thought of as drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time—similar to how one might ‘binge-watch’ a TV series on Netflix. College campuses around the country are a breeding ground for this type of drinking. In my own experience, I learned how to binge drink in college. There were drinking games like beer pong, flip cup, and power hour designed to get you drunk by drinking a lot of alcohol in aHealth Risks Associated With Binge Drinking short amount of time. It seems to be a pattern unique to college campuses, and it’s referred to as public health issue by the NIAAA. Unstructured time, availability of alcohol, inconsistent enforcement of underage drinking laws, and limited interaction with adults and parents can intensify this binge drinking problem.
Binge drinking greatly affects college students, their families, and the college communities as a whole. Binge drinking can raise safety and health risks, including car crashes, driving under the influence arrests, sexual assaults, and injuries. Each year about 696,000 students between ages 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking. Additionally, each year 97,000 students between ages 18 and 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. Binge drinking can result in academic issues like doing poorly on exams and papers, and it can lead to an alcohol use disorder. This is what happened to me. I thought binge drinking in college was normal, but the party girl lifestyle stayed with me for years after and I was consumed by its grips. I wasn’t aware that I had an alcohol use disorder.
Health risks associated with binge drinking
College students aren’t the only people who binge drink and feel its dangerous effects. According to the CDC, 70 percent of binge drinking episodes involve adults age 26 years and older. More than half of the alcohol consumed in the United States is in the form of binge drinking. It’s no secret that binge drinking is associated with many health issues including:
- Injuries from car crashes, falls, burns, firearm injuries, sexual assault, or domestic violence.
- Liver disease.
- Alcohol poisoning.
- Neurological damage.
- High blood pressure, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases.
- Sexual dysfunction.
- Unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
- Poor control of diabetes or other co-occurring mental health conditions.
Research has also revealed that a single episode of binge drinking can cause bacteria to leak from the gut and increase levels of bacterial toxins in the blood. These toxins called endotoxins, have an effect on the immune system, causing the body to produce more immune cells involved in fever, tissue destruction, and inflammation. This study was alarming because chronic binge drinking has been previously identified as detrimental to the body, but in this case, even one episode of binge drinking can leave a lasting negative effect.
Did you know the binge drinking isn’t just physically harmful, but that it also costs the entire country a pretty penny? Excessive drinking, including binge drinking, cost the United States $249 billion in 2010 from losses in productivity, health care, crime, and other expenses. Of these costs, binge drinking was responsible for 77 percent— $191 billion. That’s a lot of money!
Binge drinking isn’t fun; it’s scary and dangerous. It can lead to alcohol poisoning, blackouts, harmful decisions, and adverse health consequences like liver disease and high blood pressure. Not only that, binge drinking is the furthest thing from controlled drinking there is. If you’re binge drinking, you aren’t in control of your drinking and therefore you’re not in control of what may happen to you. If you want to stay safe and healthy, you should avoid binge drinking. If binge drinking is already a pattern in your life, you may have an alcohol use disorder. There is help available for this condition. You don’t have to do it alone. Living an alcohol-free life is possible and is the preferred way of life of over 23 million Americans who live in recovery.
Fact sheets – binge drinking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 16 October 2015. Accessed September 13, 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm
“Single episode of binge drinking linked to gut leakage and immune system effects.” NIAAA. 14 May 2014. Accessed September 13, 2016. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/single-episode-binge-drinking-linked-gut-leakage-and-immune-system-effects
“College Drinking.” NIAAA. December 2015. Accessed September 13, 2016. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/CollegeFactSheet/CollegeFactSheet.pdf
Written by: Kelly Fitzgerald