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Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is a prevalent behavior in the US with serious health and safety risks. Whether alone or in social activities like bar hopping, binge drinking can result in injuries, risky situations, and life-threatening alcohol poisoning. Recognizing the risks and seeking help is crucial to preventing tragedy and ensuring safety for yourself and others.

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About Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is a very common type of drinking behavior in the US and can lead to serious health and safety consequences. Whether done alone or through activities like bar hopping and drinking contests, binge drinking can easily lead to injuries, risky situations, and life-threatening alcohol poisoning.

Understanding the risks of binge drinking and who should get help for it is vital to avoiding needless tragedy and keeping yourself and others safe.

What Is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking alcohol that causes your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to reach the legal limit of 0.08% or above in a short period.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as consuming five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women in around two hours.

Binge drinking is one of the most dangerous ways of consuming alcohol, as it often leads to dangerously high levels of blood alcohol levels.

Alcohol users can often find themselves experiencing vomiting, blackouts, and an increased risk of alcohol poisoning during an episode of binge drinking.

Binge Drinking VS Heavy Drinking

Although the terms binge drinking and heavy drinking are related to each other, they refer to different things. Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking behavior in one sitting, typically four or five drinks being consumed in a few hours.

Heavy drinking, on the other hand, is when an individual has five or more occurrences of binge drinking in the past 30 days.

Heavy drinking behavior has been identified as a warning sign and risk factor for developing alcohol use disorder (AUD), as well as other alcohol-related conditions.

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How Common Is Binge Drinking?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in six US adults engage in binge drinking, with 25% doing so at least weekly. Most binge drinkers report having about seven drinks during these binges.

Although binge drinking is just one behavioral pattern of excessive drinking, binge drinking accounts for nearly all excessive drinking in the US.

The CDC also reports that over 90% of US adults who drink excessively report binge drinking. In addition, young adults under 35 are more likely to do this than other age groups, with men being twice as likely as women.

Risks of Binge Drinking

The risks associated with binge drinking are dire. Aside from the obvious effects of impairment and poor decision-making, excessive alcohol use can have life-threatening health problems for yourself and even for others.

Common short-term risks of binge drinking include:

  • Poor motor control and slower reaction times
  • Violence such as intimate partner violence, homicide, sexual assault, and suicide
  • Motor vehicle crashes
  • Injuries like falls or burns
  • High blood pressure or low blood pressure
  • Dehydration
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Alcohol poisoning, possibly leading to vomiting, seizures, a coma, and death
  • Depression
  • Miscarriage or stillbirth in pregnant women or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in their babies

Common long-term risks of binge drinking include:

  • Memory and learning problems
  • Loss of brain volume in young people
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Worsened mental health problems
  • Weakened immune system
  • Heightened risk of chronic disease
  • Weight gain
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Cancer of the breast (among females), liver, rectum, colon, mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus

Getting Help for Binge Drinking

Alcohol misuse and excessive alcohol consumption can be easy to miss, considering how common alcoholic beverages are in American culture. If you suspect you or a loved one has a drinking problem, now is the time to get help.

Binge drinking can lead to alcohol dependence and alcohol use disorder for certain people. Knowing the warning signs of binge drinking can help you better identify these behaviors in yourself or someone you care about.

Common signs of binge drinking include:

  • Feeling weak, shaky, or nauseous after not drinking for a while
  • Withdrawing from favorite activities and interests to spend more time drinking
  • Drinking larger amounts of alcohol than you intended
  • Drinking more often than you used to
  • Drinking early in the day
  • Feeling defensive or lying about your drinking to loved ones
  • Being unable to slow down or stop drinking
  • Needing more alcoholic drinks to get the same effect
  • Engaging in dangerous activities when you drink
  • Experiencing blackouts or gaps in your memory after drinking

Who Should Seek Help for Binge Drinking?

Alcohol dependence and withdrawals can be incredibly dangerous and even lead to death if untreated. Individuals who are heavy drinkers or struggle with moderating their alcohol intake should seek help for binge drinking.

In addition, anyone struggling with alcohol (as well as other substance abuse issues) should seek help. When mixed with the effects of alcohol, many substances can be life-threatening.

Waiting until the problem is “bad enough” only increases the risk of serious health conditions or an accident that ends in tragedy.

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Get Treatment for Binge Drinking

Because the effects of binge drinking can lead to health issues and even death, getting treatment for binge drinking is vital for keeping yourself and others safe. Luckily, there are many effective treatments available for binge drinking and alcohol use disorder, especially for alcohol withdrawal.

Not all alcoholics will need inpatient treatment, as some may find success through outpatient treatments like therapy and medications. Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery can act as treatment or treatment supplements, as well.

You can also try SAMHSA’s online treatment locator or call 1-800-662-4357 (HELP) to see what alcohol treatment options are available in your area and meet your unique needs.

FAQs About Binge Drinking

What counts as binge drinking?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking is a pattern of alcohol abuse that includes five or more standard drinks for men and four or more standard drinks for women within two hours.

Is it okay to drink only on weekends?

Each person’s alcohol tolerance is different. Most people tend to drink on weekends to avoid going to work with a hangover, and this practice is incredibly common. Whether or not it’s okay to drink on the weekends will depend on your relationship with alcohol.

If you suspect you may have a problem with drinking, you may want to avoid drinking completely and seek treatment.

What are the risks of binge drinking?

Common risks of binge drinking include:

  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Birth disorders and infant death
  • Loss of brain volume in young people
  • Stroke and heart attack
  • Insomnia or extreme sleepiness
  • Higher risk of chronic disease
  • Higher risk of other substance use issues
  • Higher chances of breast, throat, esophagus, or colon cancer

What are the immediate effects of binge drinking?

Common immediate effects of binge drinking include:

  • Impaired motor control and delayed reaction times
  • Violence and injuries
  • Motor vehicle crashes
  • Dehydration
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Risky sex that could lead to STDs or unintended pregnancies
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Higher risk of sexual assault
Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of AddictionHelp.com and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022a, April 14). Alcohol Use and Your Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022b, November 14). Binge Drinking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm
  3. Smith, M. (2022, September 1). Binge Drinking: Health Effects, Signs, and Prevention. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/binge-drinking
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2023a). Drinking Levels Defined. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2023b, March). Understanding Binge Drinking. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/binge-drinking

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