Binge Drinking: Health Effects, Signs and Prevention

Last Updated: September 22, 2023

Many people drink to relax at the end of a long day, to blow off steam, be social, celebrate or even cope with anxiety or depression. Drinking alcohol is a large part of how our society operates. It’s one of the most common ways people get together — over drinks.

While some can moderate, others have found it much harder to control. What may start out as casual drinking turns into heavy drinking or binge drinking very quickly for many, which can be dangerous and concerning. With all of the dangers surrounding binge drinking, it’s important to have all of the facts.

What Is the Definition of Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking typically refers to heavy drinking in a short span of time, often with the sole intention of getting drunk. It is defined as drinking five or more drinks at one time for men or four or more drinks at one time for women. Additionally, this drinking behavior spikes blood alcohol levels significantly and leads to severe intoxication.

How Binge Drinking Can Start

Binge drinking, specifically, is a common phenomenon for young drinkers and those who attend universities. Drinking games and practices like flip cup, beer pong, power hour and pre-gaming are all habits that incorporate binge drinking. Statistics show that one in six adults binge drink and that 25% of these individuals binge drink weekly.

Binge drinking has been linked to depression in many cases. Also, social drinking can lead to heavy drinking later in life. While this pattern of alcohol consumption is usually associated with younger adults, there are binge drinkers among all age groups. Deliberate excessive drinking with the goal of becoming intoxicated can happen at any age.

Effects of Binge Drinking

Alcohol misuse comes with a whole set of consequences. Some of the most dangerous effects of alcohol are on the brain. Often, heavy binge drinking causes impairments, including:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Slurred speech
  • Slower reaction times
  • Blackouts
  • Memory lapses
  • Memory loss
  • Decreased sleep quality
  • Alcohol poisoning 

Alcohol poisoning is particularly serious and may result in permanent injury or even death. If you witness someone exhibiting these signs of alcohol poisoning, call 911 immediately.

Binge Drinking & Decision Making

Binge drinking puts you at a high risk for poor decision-making, violence, crime and drunk driving and other risky behaviors. This is because alcohol naturally decreases your inhibition while simultaneously impairing your ability to make good decisions. Binge drinking only amplifies these problems, increasing the chances of suffering from injuries, participating in unsafe sex or committing crimes. 

Binge Drinking Withdrawal Symptoms

In addition to the physical risks of binge drinking, many alcohol withdrawal symptoms may also come with it. Binge drinking withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Severe hangovers
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Dehydration
  • Anxiety
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Body shakes
  • Sweating
  • Delirium Tremens (DTs) which often causes seizures and can lead to death

Long-Term Effects of Binge Drinking

One of the most common long-term effects of alcohol consumption is liver disease, but it has also been linked to other chronic problems such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, digestive issues and several types of cancer. Not only that, but binge drinking can cause brain damage that may then lead to several mental disorders and alcohol dependency.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Up to 80 percent of alcoholics, however, have a deficiency in thiamine and some of these people will go on to develop serious brain disorders such as Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome (WKS),” an extremely debilitating condition.

Treatment for Binge Drinking 

Whether you participate in binge drinking or not, if you are misusing alcohol in any capacity, it’s important to seek help. There are many approaches that may help someone stop binge drinking:

  • Medication: There are several medications that can help people reduce or stop their drinking. Disulfiram, acamprosate, naltrexone and nalmefene are all medications that can help those struggling with binge drinking.
  • Counseling: Counseling is an effective tool that can be done individually, in a group or with family. Counseling should include a proven form of therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy or marital and family counseling.
  • Rehab: Inpatient treatment programs and rehab centers can provide intensive care and treatment that can help those struggling with binge drinking. These programs often combine counseling, support group meetings and medication and can be particularly effective for those with a more serious drinking problem.
  • Intensive outpatient programs: These programs provide the high level of care found in an inpatient rehab program but allow the individual to live at home.

It’s important to seek personalized medical advice on what treatment approach will work best for you. If you or someone you care about is struggling with binge drinking, it’s crucial to reach out to an experienced medical professional. A specialist can help develop an individualized treatment plan that will work best for a specific individual’s needs.

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