Binge drinking is a serious health problem involving a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent or higher. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC), this equates to approximately five drinks for a man and four drinks for a woman (a single drink equaling one 12-oz beer, one 5-oz glass of wine, or one 1.5-oz shot of distilled spirits) within a two hour span. While many people consider youth, especially college-aged students, to be the major source of concern for excessive alcohol consumption habits, binge drinking is also common with adults 65 and older, as well. In fact, one in six adults in the U.S. binge drinks at least four times a month. Since binge drinking is so prevalent among youth and adults alike, it is imperative that people understand the risk factors and effects of overconsumption of alcohol has on the body in order to hopefully prevent dangerous drinking habits to begin with.
Side Effects of Binge Drinking on the Body
Overconsumption of alcohol, especially over an extended duration of time, can have damaging effects to the body. Some side effects of binge drinking are correlated with:
- The brain- alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, causing changes in mood and behavior. One of the most apparent disruptions in the body correlated with consumption of alcohol is lack of ability to think clearly and interferences with normal coordination. Additionally, memory and learning problems are associated with binge drinking.
- The immune system- drinking alcohol suppresses the immune system, slowing down the body’s ability to ward off infections and making the drinker more susceptible to diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis.
- The heart- sustained overconsumption of alcohol or heavy binge drinking on a single occasion can raise havoc on the heart. Some of the problems incurred by the heart due to alcohol consumption include:
- Cardiomyopathy- stretching and drooping of heart muscle
- Arrhythmias- irregular heart beat
- High blood pressure
- The liver- drinking takes a toll on the liver and can lead to problems such as:
- The pancreas- alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion, also known as pancreatitis.
Additionally, clear patterns have emerged linking sustained binge drinking to various types of cancer including: head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer.
Risks of Binge Drinking
Besides long-term health risks associated with binge drinking, this dangerous pattern of drinking is also associated with some more immediate repercussions to the drinker including:
- Coordination problems
- Memory loss
- Poor decision making
Since binge drinking impairs normal reasoning, it is also correlated with injuries like sexual assault and domestic violence along with unintentional pregnancy and poor pregnancy outcomes, including miscarriage and stillbirth. Furthermore, binge drinking can lead to alcohol dependence, causing someone to feel like they need to rely on alcohol to function.
How to Tell If You Binge Drink
If you’re not sure if you have a problem with binge drinking, here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Do you frequently drink more alcohol than originally intended?
- Do you ever have more than four drinks in a day?
- Do you feel guilty or ashamed when you drink too much?
- Do others make comments on how much you drink?
- Do you neglect to fulfill certain obligations due to alcohol use?
- Do you ever forget what happened when you were drinking?
Being honest with yourself is the first step to recovery. If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, addressing the issue now can help to mitigate any potential future physical, emotional, or social ramifications that binge drinking can have on you or your loved ones.
How to Stop Binge Drinking with Help
If one suspects to be frequently binge drinking, it is important to seek help with a professional that specializes in addictive behaviors. There is no shame in asking for help. Instead, seeking help at the onset of a problem or once you realize you need help, is a sign of strength. Additionally, counseling can be beneficial to get to the root of the issue and to avoid any future alcohol abuse from arising. The time to get help is now. You deserve to live life to the fullest, without compromising your physical, emotional, and mental well-being.