Alcohol use is vastly prevalent within a number of American social spheres. For many people, alcohol in moderation can be part of a pleasurable and safe social gathering. However, others may unknowingly be engaging in a harmful practice known as “binge drinking” at these events.
Even if you don’t drink on a regular basis, binge drinking is still a harmful drinking practice. The CDC reports that “more than half of the alcohol consumed by adults in the United States is in the form of binge drinks.” Binge drinking is a prevalent, and often overlooked, behavior that a large number of individuals pursue.
What Is Binge Drinking?
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), binge drinking is “a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men—in about 2 hours.”
It’s important to remember that drink amount is not necessarily the amount of actual beverages you consume, but is instead based on the amount of alcohol in each type of alcohol. NIAAA explains that a standard drink contains “roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol,” which is considered “one drink. This amount of alcohol is found in the following drinks:
- 8-9 ounces of malt liquor, which is about seven percent alcohol
- 12 ounces of regular beer, which is usually about five percent alcohol
- Five ounces of wine, which is typically about 12 percent alcohol
- 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, which is about 40 percent alcohol
Binge drinking behavior is seen on college campuses, at ballgames, in bars, at parties, and at many other social events. There is a good likelihood that even if you personally haven’t engaged in binge drinking, you’ve been around a person who has done so. The CDC reports that “one in six U.S. adults binge drinks about four times a month, consuming about eight drinks per binge.”
The Risks Of Binge Drinking
There is an unfortunate and dangerous perception linked to binge drinking, which is the idea that occasional heavy drinking of this type, rather than daily drinking, is not a problem. This couldn’t be any farther from the truth. Binge drinking carries a wide array of risks and dangers, and as scientists further study it, their research continues to illustrate exactly how dangerous binge drinking can truly be.
The CDC lists the following health concerns linked to binge drinking:
- Unintentional injuries (e.g., car crashes, falls, burns, drowning)
- Intentional injuries (e.g., firearm injuries, sexual assault, domestic violence)
- Alcohol poisoning
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Unintended pregnancy
- High blood pressure, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases
- Liver disease
- Neurological damage
- Sexual dysfunction
- Poor control of diabetes
Alcohol impairs critical functioning by affecting important areas of your brain that are responsible for judgment, decision making, and controlling inhibitions. Due to this, people who binge drink are more apt to engage in behaviors that can result in serious problems and even direct danger.
For example, people who binge drink are more apt to engage in risky sexual behaviors, including unprotected sex, which drastically increases their risk of STDS and unintended pregnancy. The CDC says that “binge drinkers are 14 times more likely to report alcohol-impaired driving than non-binge drinkers.” This puts them at a statistically higher risk for motor vehicle accidents, causing injury or death to themselves or others.
Despite the fact that there are some studied positive cardiovascular health benefits from consuming alcohol, one must consider that drinking in excess can negate these. A recent study published in the journal Epidemiology focused on the specific risk that binge drinking posed cardiovascular health, specifically that of causing a heart attack.
The study investigated 3,869 people who had suffered from heart attack, and of those, 76 individuals had consumed alcohol “within 1 hour before acute MI onset.” Scientists found that the risk was higher for those who did not drink on a daily basis and that “the rate of (heart attack) onset was 72% higher during the hour after drinking alcohol compared with periods with no consumption, and the association was stronger for liquor than for beer or wine.”
Researchers at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine conducted a study that investigated the effects of binge drinking on the immune system of young adults. The study determined that within hours of binge drinking, the immune system was already compromised.
Loyola Medicine reported on the study’s results, stating that at “two hours and five hours after peak intoxication, researchers found…fewer circulating monocytes and natural killer cells and higher levels of different types of cytokines that signal the immune system to become less active.”
This damage to the body’s defenses persists even after the drinking ceases, as Loyola Medicine elaborates, stating that “previous studies have found, for example, that binge drinking delays wound healing, increases blood loss and makes patients more prone to pneumonia and infections from catheters. Binge drinkers also are more likely to die from traumatic injuries.”
Binge Drinking Can Lead To Alcohol Poisoning
Binge drinking can cause alcohol poisoning, which occurs when your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) rises so high that its detoxification systems can no longer process it accordingly. Even after you’ve became unconscious, your body will continue to process the alcohol that is in your digestive system and release it into your bloodstream, causing your BAC to keep increasing. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning are:
- Impaired eyesight (blurred or double vision)
- Impaired coordination and balance
- Slow or irregular breathing
- Decreased blood pressure
- Decreased body temperature (hypothermia)
- Changes in skin color (a paler color or bluish tint)
- Low blood sugar
- Loss of consciousness
Don’t wait until a person displays all of these signs to seek help. The longer you wait, the greater the damage and danger. If a person exhibits any of these signs, or if you’re at all fearful that a person may be suffering from alcohol poisoning, seek medical attention immediately. Do not leave the person alone.
According to Mayo Clinic, “a person who is unconscious or can’t be awakened is at risk of dying.” The common practices that many people might encourage in this situation—drinking coffee, taking a cold shower, or sleeping it off—can in actuality worsen an already dangerous situation.
In the worst case scenario, binge drinking and the resultant alcohol poisoning can cause coma, brain damage, and even death. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that causes respiratory depression (slowed breathing), a decreased heart rate, and an impaired pharyngeal (gag) reflex. When a person consumes too much alcohol the body reacts by trying to purge itself of a poisonous toxin, resulting in vomiting.
If this occurs while a person is unconscious, a person can aspirate their vomit, which could then lead to choking and asphyxiation, followed by death.
Binge Drinking Can Lead To Further Problems With Alcohol
A wealth of research suggests that binge drinking can increase a person’s risk of developing an alcohol addiction. A study published in 2012 that was led by the The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) examined the effects of the consumption of intermittent and large quantities of alcohol on rats.
After only a few months of this access, the rats exhibited cognitive impairment that researchers linked to specific neurons, that as TSRI reports, “inhibit ‘executive control’ functions in the prefrontal cortex of the brain.”
They went on to say that “these neurons were unusually active in the periods between drinking binges—and the more active they were, the more the rats drank when they next had access to alcohol.” What is most shocking is that researchers witnessed that the rats who only had occasional, but regular, access to binge drink drank more in the long run than those who had constant access to alcohol.
TSRI quoted Olivier George, the study’s lead author: “we suspect that this very early adaptation of the brain to intermittent alcohol use helps drive the transition from ordinary social drinking to binge drinking and dependence.”
The Risks Of Underage Binge Drinking Within Adolescence
The 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that an estimated 13.8 percent of those aged 12-20 (approximately 5.3 million people) were considered binge drinkers. NIAAA reported that this age group consumes 11 percent of the alcohol in the country. For these people, drinking at a young age presents a unique set of problems.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) cites that “adolescent binge drinkers are three times more likely than those who do not binge drink to develop an alcohol-related disorder as an adult,” continuing to say that “the younger a person is when they begin to binge drink, the greater their risk for developing an alcohol use disorder.”
Underage individuals are still undergoing various developmental processes that can be significantly disrupted, with specific concern given to the brain. Binge drinking can affect cognitive development and brain structure and function, specifically altering the development of the brain’s white matter.
A prospective study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs followed participants from a time before they started drinking to a point three years later, at which point they compared those who abstained from alcohol to those who engaged in binge drinking. To document and better understand the effects of the alcohol, MRIs were performed at the study’s onset and at the three year mark.
The study found that “adolescents who initiate heavy drinking show less efficient and less mature processing of information compared with youth who remain relatively substance free.” The study’s authors also theorized that “adolescent heavy drinkers may have to work harder to complete a demanding task.”
Binge Drinking Within The College Population
The National Institutes of Health reports that an estimated 4 out of 5 college students drink alcohol and that nearly half binge drink. What is most startling perhaps is that individuals of this age who attend university drink more than those who do not. Experts theorize thi is caused by peer pressure, pursuits of sociability, and perceived sexual connections set against a backdrop of increased availability.
This study cited one of the greatest concerns of binge drinking for a person this age, citing that “motivational neurocircuitry underlying risk, reward and decision-making continues to develop during this period.” This means the alcohol is affecting areas of the brain that are still in development.
Drinking also exerts damage on a student’s day to day life, which places a burden on their future by placing them at greater risk for violence, sexual assault, suicide, and academic problems. NIAAA speaks to this, stating that “more than 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape” and “about 25 percent of college students report academic consequences of their drinking including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.”
Binge Drinking Carries Specific Risks For Women
Though men are reported as engaging in higher rates of binge drinking than women, the rate of binge drinking for women has increased. Women’s physiology dictates that their bodies process alcohol differently than men. This can lead to a greater number of problems and potential for alcohol abuse.
This makes it especially dangerous for women who may try to keep up with men during a binge drinking episode. In addition to this, women have specific health and medical concerns that can result from binge drinking, including an increased risk of breast cancer and unintended pregnancy.
Women who consume alcohol during their pregnancies, they could be doing great harm to their child. Research suggests that binge drinking during pregnancy is linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), a greater risk for the child to develop ADHD, and various fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
A recent study conducted at the California National Primate Research Center on rhesus monkeys focused solely on the effect of long-term binge drinking and the effect of it on later pregnancies. The monkeys consumed alcohol prior to fertilization, thus, the alcohol was only present until conception was confirmed, not while the fetus was developing. Despite this, researchers found an increased rate of spontaneous fetal death, a risk that they theorize could extend to human women.
Don’t Let Drinking Ruin Your Health
Even if you don’t suffer from an alcohol addiction, you may still be endangering your health by drinking. If you or someone you love exhibits any of the signs of binge drinking, please contact us at Drugrehab.org so that we can support you in getting the help you need to lead a healthier life.