Binge Drinking Signs, Effects, and Help
- What is Binge Drinking? How Common is It?
- Drinking Heavily Affects Brain Function
- Binge Drinking Affects Your Emotions
- Medical Consequences of Heavy Drinking
- Risk of Withdrawal-induced seizures
- What Increases The Risk of Binge Drinking?
- Binge Drinking in Teens and Young Adults
'Binge drinking' is a common term referring to the general practice of drinking a large amount of alcohol in a relatively short time. For men, this generally means 5 or more drinks over the span of a two-hour period and, for women, this means 4 or more drinks in the same amount of time. Previous studies have indicated that the prevalence of binge drinking among men is nearly double that among women.
Dangers of Binge DrinkingBinge drinking is one of the most common types of excessive alcohol use among adults within the United States. More than 10% of the adult population engage in binge drinking behavior, and it is becoming increasingly prevalent in adolescents. Adverse effects of binge drinking include:
What is Binge Drinking? How Common is It?
'Binge drinking' is a common term referring to the general practice of drinking a large amount of alcohol in a relatively short time.
For men, this generally means 5 or more drinks over the span of a two-hour period and, for women, this means 4 or more drinks in the same amount of time.
Previous studies have indicated that the prevalence of binge drinking among men is nearly double that among women.
While binge drinking is, indeed, a form of drug abuse and addiction, most individuals who binge drink do not meet criteria for alcohol dependency.
- Some estimates suggest that up to 16% of adults in the U.S. abuse and/or are dependent on alcohol.
- Nonetheless, in one survey, of those adults reporting regular drinking habits, about 92% also reported having had an episode of binge drinking within the past 30 days.
Drinking Heavily Affects Brain Function
It is well known that individuals who drink heavily over long periods of time are at risk for developing significant deficits in cognitive functioning. Indeed, an extensive body of research indicates that even moderate drinking can lead to significant short-term impairments in one's cognitive abilities.
There are a number of factors that can impact how alcohol affects the brain, which include:
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- Drinking frequency and the amount of alcohol consumed during each drinking episode.
- Age at which drinking regularly began and number of years the individual has been drinking.
- Individual's age, education level, gender, and familial history of alcoholism.
- Individual's overall physical health.
- Degree of prenatal exposure to alcohol.
Regular consumption of alcohol can lead to significant changes in the individual's memory. In fact, as the amount of alcohol consumed increases, so does the degree of memory loss.
As such, individuals who regularly engage in binge drinking practices are considered to be most at risk for memory lapses--known as blackouts.
Blackouts are characterized by a period of time in which the intoxicated individuals are unable to recall any key details of events that occurred.
Cognitive functioning can also be impaired the next day, following a binge drinking episode.
- In a study that included 200 college students, performance was assessed on a standard test (the Graduate Record Examination or GRE) before and after an episode of high-volume alcohol intake.
- The study found that reaction times, attention and spatial awareness were significantly decreased after alcohol intake.
Binge Drinking Affects Your Emotions
This means that while excessive drinking may relieve anxiety and stress, over time it can contribute to the development of more anxiety and stress, including additional feelings of depression.
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Medical Consequences of Heavy Drinking
In large quantities, alcohol is toxic to the delicate cells within the brain. Additionally, chronic binge drinking can lead to significant damage within the esophagus and may even result in hemorrhaging. Other health consequences of chronic binge drinking include:
Risk of Withdrawal-induced seizures
Generally, the risks of more severe withdrawal symptoms increase in approximate proportion to the extent and duration of binge-drinking behavior.
- Frequent and/or severe binge drinking increases the risk of a very unpleasant withdrawal.
- Symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal may include hallucinations, tremors, and seizures.
- This effect of alcohol abuse should be addressed with prompt emergency medical care.
What Increases The Risk of Binge Drinking?
There are a number of risk factors that have been correlated with higher rates of binge drinking. These include:
- Being male.
- Falling within the age range of 18 and 34 years, or being more than 65 years of age.
- Being non-Hispanic white or Hispanic.
- Having higher educational attainment.
- Higher household income (i.e. greater than $75,000 per year).
Treatments for Binge Drinking
Evaluation by a mental health, medical doctor or other addiction treatment professional can help to make the determination for the appropriate level of treatment. Many individuals who engage in regular binge drinking do not necessarily meet criteria for alcohol dependency. In these instances, you may be able to cut back on your drinking on your own.
Binge Drinking in Teens and Young Adults
The prevalence of binge drinking among adolescents is incredibly high. In fact, alcohol is regarded as one of the most commonly used and abused drugs among youth in the US.
Though drinking alcohol is illegal for those individuals who are under 21 years of age, youth between 12 and 20 years have been estimated to consume nearly 11% of all the alcohol consumed within the US.
- Moreover, more than 90% of this alcohol is consumed during binge drinking episodes.
Moreover, binge drinking may lead to increased risk for:
- Problems in school (increased absences and poor or even failing grades).
- Social difficulties (increased involvements in fights, lack of participation in typical youth activities).
- Legal problems (such as drunk driving arrests).
- Physical problems.
- Engaging in risky sexual behaviors.
Youth who began drinking before the age of 15 are believed to be five times more likely to develop problems with alcohol dependence or abuse when they reach adulthood than those who started drinking after their 21st birthday.
There are a number of factors that have been suggested to lead many adolescents to binge drinking. These include:
- Increased tendency toward risk-taking behaviors during adolescence.
- Expectations (in other words, adolescents may be expecting to have a more pleasurable experience when drinking than those who are not drinking).
- Differences in both sensitivities to and tolerance to the effects of alcohol.
- Other psychiatric difficulties.
- Heredity factors (such as a family history of alcohol abuse).
- Social and/or environmental influences (e.g., peer pressure).
Binge Drinking Among College Students
Binge-drinking - an all too frequent occurrence among college students - can exert a range of negative effects, including:
- Increased risks of injury or possibly risky sexual practices.
- Increased risks of assault and/or unwelcome sexual advances.
- Legal issues, the risk of violence or suicide and reduced academic performance. However, this can be attributed to missing lectures due to 'hangovers' and increased time spent abusing alcohol instead of studying and not to acute cognitive effects.
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- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Overdose: The Dangers of Drinking Too Much. Online publication available at: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/AlcoholOverdoseFactsheet/Overdosefact.htm
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. NIAAA council approves definition of binge drinking, NIAAA Newsletter 2004;3:3. Publication available online at: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Newsletter/winter2004/Newsletter_Number3.pdf
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