Binge drinking is the process of when a person takes in at least 4 – 5 drinks over a period of two hours, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although most binge drinkers are not physically dependent on alcohol, binge drinking is the most common and deadly pattern of alcohol abuse.
Binge drinking can even occur multiple times throughout the week. But, because the person is not drinking alcohol continuously, or daily, they do not become physically dependent upon alcohol. When one is dependent upon alcohol, they will suffer from tolerance and withdrawal. Because binge drinkers have periods of abstinence, they do not end up developing significant tolerance and withdrawal, although some tolerance may develop over time, requiring more drinks per binge to get the same effects as before.
Consequences of Binge Drinking
- Alcohol-related cancers
- Alcohol-related diseases such as liver disease, heart disease, and neuropathy
- Alcohol dependence
- Problems with memory
- Decreased learning ability
- Sexual acting-out causing unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases
- Placing oneself in sexual situations that they would not normally take part in
Binge drinking is when one engages in heavy episodic drinking and the intention is to become intoxicated by drinking a large amount of alcohol in a brief period of time. Rather than enjoying a burger and beer or a glass a wine with cheese, binge drinkers set out to become intoxicated. Keeping this in mind, binge drinking is much more common in the younger population, especially in teens and in college-age young adults, up to the age of 30, at which point binge drinking behavior seems to begin to decrease.
The duration of a binge can last anywhere from hours to days, or even weeks. The longer the binge, the more likely it is that the person is an alcoholic, and may become dependent on alcohol. Keep in mind that some binge drinkers are alcoholics and some alcoholics are binge drinkers. The difference between the two is that an alcoholic has a strong urge, or craving, to drink and will place drinking above all other priorities, despite experiencing negative consequences.
A non-alcohol dependent binge drinker can be totally “fine” living for a period without drinking and usually only experiences negative consequences while actively drinking. An alcoholic continues to experience negative consequences, even when not actively drinking, barring proper and effective treatment and an active recovery plan.
Since the dangers of binge drinking are well-known, there have been many efforts made on college campuses and by the government to curb binge drinking in the younger population. Because binges tend to involve high quantities of alcohol – sometimes in those with limited previous exposure to alcohol – it is in this younger population that overdose and death from acute alcohol intoxication is most common.
Binge drinking is also more dangerous in the younger population because the human brain has not reached full maturity until around the age of 25. The lack of neurologic maturation is especially true for the prefrontal cortex, which is the area that allows one to inhibit impulses and is also involved in planning and organizing behaviors. Because of this fact, excessive alcohol consumption at a youthful age can prevent the normal maturation of the brain, and lead to lifelong consequences in the development of speech, impulse control, and organized behavior.
The highest activity of the brain’s reward system (dopamine), which is involved in pleasure seeking, peaks around age 18 and then gradually declines to the adult level at around 25 years old. This is one reason more risk-taking behavior is exhibited by those in the 18 – 25-year-old age group.
Binge drinking can certainly progress to overt alcoholism and when this happens the binges will occur more often and last longer, ultimately ending in daily or near daily drinking. This is when one runs the risk of developing tolerance and withdrawal and diving directly into full alcohol dependence.
Treatment for Binge Drinking
If one takes part in binge drinking on a few occasions and “learns his/her lesson”, treatment is unlikely to be necessary. However, when binge-type alcoholism becomes a routine, there are those that will need to seek treatment to prevent the progression to full-blown alcoholism. Even if alcohol dependence is not a concern, alcohol treatment can help those who regularly binge drink to curb their drinking to prevent the grave consequences that can be created from this practice.
The treatment for binge-type alcohol abuse is not unlike that of alcohol dependence. But the focus will be on how to replace alcohol binges as a form of relaxation and fun, with other healthier activities. One important difference between binge drinking and continuous alcoholism is that the consequences from binge drinking are somewhat different from those with chronic alcoholism. Because of this fact, many of those who binge drink just believe they got out of control a few times and it won’t happen again. But the reality is, many repeat binge drinking behavior and end up with the same or new consequences.
The treatment of binge-type alcoholism can be difficult because the binge drinker feels “normal” between binges. First, they may not recognize this pattern of behavior as a problem; instead, viewing it as, “I just like to party,” or, “It’s just weekend fun.” Secondly, because they are likely to engage in drinking binges with friends, this may normalize the behavior for the binge drinker.
There are those who may, for example, be arrested for driving under the influence after a binge, and rather than see the alcohol binge as the problem, they view driving while intoxicated as the problem. So, rather than seeking treatment for binge drinking, the alcohol abuser may choose to not drive, but continue binges. With this line of thinking, the binge drinker will likely suffer from other consequences, but not receive another DUI.
In fact, as stated above, binge drinking causes more severe and immediate consequences than does chronic alcohol dependence.
If you believe that you or a loved one needs help with binge-type drinking, the staff at the National Addiction Institute can help you locate services specific to your needs. Simply call us at 844-889-8140, or complete our online contact form. NAI will confidentially maintain all information that is shared and can lead you on a path of life fulfillment with the avoidance of additional consequences.