Binge Drinking Signs, Effects, and Help

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  1. What is Binge Drinking? How Common is It?
  2. Drinking Heavily Affects Brain Function
  3. Binge Drinking Affects Your Emotions
  4. Medical Consequences of Heavy Drinking
  5. Risk of Withdrawal-induced seizures
  6. What Increases The Risk of Binge Drinking?
  7. Binge Drinking in Teens and Young Adults
  8. Sources

Dangers of Binge Drinking

Binge 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:

  • Cognitive and memory deficits.
  • Neurocognitive impairments due to repeated episodes of acute alcohol withdrawal and detoxifications.
  • Alcohol poisoning.
Dangers of Binge Drinking

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.

  • According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), binge drinking is defined as a pattern of heavy drinking in which an individual's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reaches 0.08 grams' percent alcohol or above.

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.

Previous studies have indicated that the prevalence of binge drinking among men is nearly double that among women. If you think your drinking has gotten out of hand, preventative measures can help it from developing into a serious addiction. Please call 1-888-993-3112Who Answers? to find suitable programs that can help you get back on track.

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.

man passed out from drinking too much

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

While binge drinking can lead to serious consequences in terms of cognitive functioning, it can also have other central nervous system effects that may lead to the magnification of negative moods and emotions.

  • More specifically, binge drinkers are more likely to exhibit lower positive mood states when subjective ratings are obtained.

Individuals who binge drink regularly and, therefore, experience repeated physiologic withdrawal following multiple episodes of excessive alcohol use, are more likely to exhibit signs of deficient emotional competence.

  • These individuals have a difficult time interpreting the emotional expressions of others.

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.

Individuals with regular patterns of binge drinking often have a harder time dealing with stress, as chronic heavy drinking can have a significant impact on the balance of neurotransmitters within the brain. If you or someone you love needs help, treatment can reverse the effects of problematic drinking. Get help now by calling 1-888-993-3112Who Answers?.

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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:

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Acute pancreatitis.
  • Chronic pancreatitis.
  • Esophagitis.
  • Esophageal varices.
  • Acute gastritis.
  • Chronic abdominal pain.
  • Acute myopathy.

  • Increased blood pressure (binge drinking, in particular, has been associated with dangerous surges in blood pressure).
  • Increased risk for acute hemorrhaging and ischemic stroke.
  • Heart arrhythmias.
  • Sudden cardiac death.
  • Increased risk of death.

Risk of Withdrawal-induced seizures

  • Binge-drinking may result in withdrawal symptoms in response to situations of enforced or involuntary abstinence from this activity. This may elicit an unpleasant, potentially dangerous set of withdrawal symptoms--medically supervised detoxification may be required.

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?

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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.

  • However, other individuals may need assistance in cutting back, in part due to the potentially severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

    • As such, initial treatment for binge-drinking may incorporate a supervised, medically managed treatment for withdrawal symptoms, while the individual detoxes from the alcohol in their body.
  • While a relatively small portion of individuals will need more intensive treatment for their binge drinking, requiring an inpatient admission, most individuals who are recovering from chronic binge drinking may find it beneficial to participate in an outpatient treatment program.

    • Many 12-step programs have shown promising results regarding helping individuals overcome regular binge drinking behavior.

Prevention programs are also available, as a way to prevent individuals who may be at an increased risk from becoming habitual binge drinkers. Brief Interventions have shown some promise as a prevention program targeted toward younger populations. Call 1-888-993-3112Who Answers? now to find a program that suits your needs.

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.


  • Binge drinking may be particularly dangerous to adolescents and teens as their young brains are still actively developing. The risk for lasting, long-term cognitive impairment may be increased in this demographic.

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.
  • Suicide.

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.

It is believed that the brain of those under 21 is still continuing to develop; thus, exposure to alcohol at such as young age leads to significant consequences later on in life. If you or someone you know is drinking heavily and frequently, it might be time to find a treatment program that can prevent dangerous complications from developing. Call 1-888-993-3112Who Answers? now to get connected.


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.


  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcohol Facts and Statistics. Online publication available at:
  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Overdose: The Dangers of Drinking Too Much. Online publication available at:
  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. NIAAA council approves definition of binge drinking, NIAAA Newsletter 2004;3:3. Publication available online at:
  4. Muncie HL, Jr., Yasinian Y, Oge L. Outpatient management of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. American family physician. 2013;88(9):589-595.
  5. Town M, Naimi TS, Mokdad AH, Brewer RD. Health care access among US adults who drink alcohol excessively: Missed opportunities for prevention. Prev Chronic Dis [serial online]; April 2006.
  6. Warren JC, Smalley KB, Barefoot KN. Perceived ease of access to alcohol, tobacco and other substances in rural and urban US students. Rural and remote health. 2015;15(4):3397.
  7. Wechsler H, Davenport A, Dowdall G, Moeykens B, Castillo S. Health and behavioral consequences of binge drinking in college. A national survey of students at 140 campuses. Jama. 1994;272(21):1672-1677.
  8. National Institutes of Health US Department of Health and Human Services: Alcohol's damaging effects on the brain. Online publication available at:
  9. Howland J, Rohsenow DJ, Greece JA, et al. The effects of binge drinking on college students' next-day academic test-taking performance and mood state. Addiction (Abingdon, England). 2010;105(4):655-665.
  10. Stephens DN, Duka T. Cognitive and emotional consequences of binge drinking: Role of amygdala and prefrontal cortex. Phil Trans 2008;363(1507).
  11. Linnoila MI. Benzodiazepines and alcohol. Journal of Psychiatric Research. 1990;24, Supplement 2:121-127.
  12. Vital signs: binge drinking prevalence, frequency, and intensity among adults - United States, 2010. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report. 2012;61(1):14-19.

Loheswaran G, Barr MS, Rajji TK, Blumberger DM, Le Foll B, Daskalakis ZJ. Alcohol Intoxication by Binge Drinking Impairs Neuroplasticity. Brain stimulation. 2015.

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