Consequences of Binge Drinking: Risks, Causes, and Prevention

Binge drinking is a term used to describe the excessive consumption of multiple alcoholic drinks in one sitting. When someone binge drinks, they may experience both short– and long-term health effects. It is recommended to practice safe, moderate alcohol consumption to avoid the consequences of binge drinking.1,2

What is Binge Drinking?

The definition of binge drinking is the consumption of five or more alcoholic beverages for men or four or more alcoholic beverages for women within a two-hour period. It can also be defined as drinking until you’ve reached at least a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 percent.1,3

Conversely, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.1

What is considered one drink depends on the type of alcohol being consumed. For example:4

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits

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Harmful Consequences of Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is frequently associated with adolescents and young adults aged 18-34.5 However, binge drinking is also a concern with adults 35 and over as they are responsible for more than half of the total number of occurrences of binge drinking.6

Binge drinking can lead to many detrimental effects on your mental, physical, and social health. Harmful consequences of binge drinking may include:2,6,7

  • Unintentional injuries, including those caused by car accidents
  • Alcohol poisoning or alcohol overdose, which could be potentially fatal
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Cancer of the colon, liver, esophagus, throat, mouth, and breast
  • Violent behaviors, such as homicide or domestic violence incidents
  • Increased risk of suicide
  • Unintended pregnancies
  • Poor pregnancy outcomes, including stillbirth and miscarriage
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD)
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Learning and memory issues, including blackouts
  • Academic impairment in students
  • Impaired athletic performance in student-athletes
  • Legal issues
  • Alcohol use disorder, or alcohol addiction

One of the most severe consequences of binge drinking is that of developing an alcohol addiction, a chronic condition characterized by uncontrollable alcohol use, despite negative consequences in your life. Alcohol use disorder frequently requires treatment in order to break the cycle of alcohol misuse. If you or someone you know is struggling with binge drinking or alcohol addiction, call our helpline at 800-839-1686Who Answers? to find a rehab.

What Causes Binge Drinking?

While it is important to understand what binge drinking is and its potential dangers, it is equally important to understand what causes binge drinking. Awareness of the precursors to binge drinking could lead to better prevention and treatment.

Attitude Toward Drinking

Studies have shown that you are more likely to consume alcohol when you have a direct experience with drinking alcohol in adolescence or if you perceive your parents’ and friends’ attitudes toward alcohol consumption to be favorable.7 Additionally, if you have had a drink before and associated it with a positive experience, then you are more likely to drink in excess to repeat the positive experience.8,9 What this indicates is that your attitude towards drinking contributes to the increased likelihood that you will engage in binge drinking.7

Lack of Awareness of Long-term Consequences

You are more likely to binge drink as an adolescent or young adult.3,8,9 At that age range, you are looking at college and high school students who are more susceptible to engage in this behavior due to the desire to enhance social interactions at parties and other peer events. As a result of wanting to socialize and have a good time, you may not comprehend the potential long-term consequences of binge drinking.9

Social Settings

Being present at parties or at gatherings with family or friends where alcohol is available increases the chances of engaging in binge drinking. These chances are increased due to the motivation factors behind drinking, including the belief that being drunk enhances the overall experience at social gatherings. Peer pressure in social settings can also be a factor in motivating you to drink excessively. Ultimately, the desire to fit in can be overwhelming and may lead to binge drinking.9

Availability

The ease of access and availability of alcohol increase the chances of excessive drinking. Research shows that adolescents who lived within a quarter-mile radius of establishments that served alcohol were more likely to develop lifelong alcohol use and engage in binge drinking.11 In addition, increased alcohol availability and exposure near college campuses correlated with increased binge drinking in college students.12 If you live near alcohol distributors, you are also more exposed to advertisements, observations of others consuming alcohol, and ultimately having the curiosity to experiment with alcohol use.13

How Can You Prevent Binge Drinking?

You can keep track of your alcohol use behaviors across longer time periods, such as six months. You may want to use a calendar, a journal, or a chart, depending on what works best for you. That way, you have drinking data recorded and you can refer to your patterns of alcohol use. Plus, writing your drinking behaviors down will help you be more aware of just how much alcohol you’re consuming. Since binge drinking is defined as the consumption of at least four or five drinks within two hours, you can try to limit your alcohol intake to remain at a moderate consumption level, of about one to two drinks per day.1

Since you are more likely to engage in binge drinking at parties or social events with family and friends, you can suggest limiting or removing the availability of alcohol at the events. If this is not a possibility, you can choose only to attend parties or events where alcohol is not available or limit yourself to one or two social events per month to help maintain safe moderate alcohol consumption. You may also want to discuss your goals to reduce your alcohol use with your friends or family members so they can support and encourage you, as well as hold you accountable.

Education and awareness about the potential negative consequences associated with excessive alcohol use could also help prevent binge drinking. Obtaining information for yourself or providing information to a loved one about the dangers of binge drinking can reduce the chances of drinking a large amount in one sitting.

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How to Know When You Need to Seek Help

It can be difficult to recognize the signs that you may be dealing with a dangerous pattern of binge drinking or alcohol misuse. It can be equally challenging to realize that you may need help with it. Here are some common signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder:5

  • Failing to reduce or stop your alcohol consumption despite efforts to do so
  • Drinking greater amounts or for longer than you originally planned
  • Spending a great deal of time obtaining or using alcohol, as well as recovering from its effects
  • Craving or having a strong desire to consume alcohol
  • Failing to meet personal or professional responsibilities due to alcohol use
  • Experiencing social or interpersonal problems due to alcohol use
  • Experiencing physical or psychological issues due to alcohol use
  • Neglecting previously enjoyed hobbies or activities in favor of alcohol use
  • Drinking alcohol in hazardous situations, such as while driving
  • Needing higher amount of alcohol to feel the desired effects (tolerance)
  • Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you quit (dependence)

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you may be struggling with alcohol use disorder. Seek out an assessment through your provider or call our helpline at 800-839-1686Who Answers? to speak with a treatment support specialist. They can help you find a rehab that’s right for you.

Resources

  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020). Drinking Levels Defined National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  2. Perkins, H. W. (2002). Surveying the damage: A review of research on consequences of alcohol misuse in college populations. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 63(2), 91-100
  3. Slutske, W. S. (2005). Alcohol use disorders among US college students and their non-college-attending peers.Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(3), 321–327.
  4. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). What Is A Standard Drink?
  5. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. American Psychiatric Association Publishing.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Binge drinking is a serious but preventable problem of excessive alcohol use. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  7. Payne, B. K., Lee, K. M., Giletta, M., & Prinstein, M. J. (2016). Implicit attitudes predict drinking onset in adolescents: Shaping by social norms. Health Psychology, 35(8), 829-836.
  8. Lauckner, C., Warnock, C. A., Schipani-McLaughlin, A. M., Lambert, D. N., & Muilenburg, J. L. (2020). The relationship between perceived parental leniency, access to alcohol at home, and alcohol consumption and consequences among rural adolescents. Journal of Rural Mental Health, 44(1), 26-38.
  9. Smit, K., Voogt, C., Otten, R., Kleinjan, M., & Kuntsche, E. (2020). Why adolescents engage in early alcohol use: A study of drinking motives. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology.
  10. Borges, G., Bagge, C. L., Cherpitel, C. J., Conner, K. R., Orozco, R., & Rossow, I. (2016). A meta-analysis of acute use of alcohol and the risk of suicide attempt. Psychological Medicine, 47(5), 949-957.
  11. Shih, R. A., Mullins, L., Ewing, B. A., Miyashiro, L., Tucker, J. S., Pedersen, E. R., Miles, J. N. V., & D’Amico, E. J. (2015). Associations between neighborhood alcohol availability and young adolescent alcohol use. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 29(4), 950-959.
  12. Park, A., Sher, K. J., Wood, P. K., & Krull, J. L. (2009). Dual mechanisms underlying accentuation of risky drinking via fraternity/sorority affiliation: The role of personality, peer norms, and alcohol availability. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 118(2), 241-255.
  13. Kanny, D., Naimi, T. S., Liu, Y., Lu, H., & Brewer, R. D. (2018). Annual total binge drinks consumed by U.S. adults, 2015. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 54(4), 486-496.

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