While binge drinking and alcoholism are not necessarily synonymous, this phenomenon is both widespread and potentially damaging in many ways.
Data from the 2019 NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health) shows that 26% of all over-18 reported binge drinking in the previous month.
Among college students, this proportion of people binge drinking is even higher. The same data shows that 33% of full-time college students reported at least one episode of drinking in the previous month.
Not only can this type of drinking trigger negative short-term outcomes, but it can also lead to myriad long-term health problems. So, what is binge drinking, exactly?
Binge Drinking Definition
This type of drinking is characterized by drinking alcohol quickly and systematically. Rapid intoxication is the goal of binge drinking, often gamified in the form of drinking games.
The CDC refers to binge drinking as a public health problem that is “serious but preventable”.
For a more specific definition of this pattern of immoderate drinking, we need to explore the volume of alcohol intake as well as blood alcohol concentration levels.
How Many Drinks is Considered “Binge Drinking”
The most common benchmarks for binge drinking are as follows:
- If a man has 5 or more standard drinks in a 2-hour period
- If a man has 4 or more standard drinks in a 2-hour period
For the purposes of this definition, a standard drink is any of the following:
- 5oz glass of wine
- 12oz beer
- 1.5oz single shot of liquor
NIAAA (the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) offers a more precise definition of binge drinking, specifically alcohol consumption that raises your blood alcohol concentration levels beyond the legal limit (0.08 grams per deciliter).
Is Binge Drinking Alcoholism?
While not everyone who binge drinks is alcoholic, data shows that binge drinking can heighten your risk of developing alcohol use disorder.
Most people who binge drink are not dependent on alcohol. That said, CDC data shows that 90% of people reporting drinking heavily also reported binge drinking during the previous month.
If you recognize you are binge drinking, you may find yourself concerned about developing alcohol use disorder. If so, try asking yourself the following questions used to diagnose alcohol use disorder:
- Do you have cravings for alcohol?
- Have you lost interest in normal activities?
- Have you experienced physical or mental health problems due to your alcohol intake?
- Are you spending large chunks of time drinking and recovering from the effects of alcohol abuse?
- Has tolerance built so you need more alcohol to achieve the same effects?
- Do you find yourself drinking more than intended, or drinking for longer than intended?
- Have you tried and failed to moderate or discontinue using alcohol?
- Has drinking alcohol led you to behave recklessly or dangerously – driving under the influence, for example?
- Is your alcohol intake causing problems at home, work, or school?
- Are you failing to meet your responsibilities as a result of alcohol abuse?
- If you stop drinking, do you experience withdrawal symptoms?
These are the criteria set out in DSM-5 and used to diagnose alcohol use disorder as mild, moderate, or severe, depending on how many criteria you satisfy. While there is no substitute for a professional assessment and diagnosis, answering these questions honestly should give you some insight into whether binge drinking may be progressing into full-blown alcohol use disorder.
Binge Drinking in College Students
In the United States, binge drinking occurs most frequently in the under-30s, according to this study. The same study shows that despite the younger demographic binge drinking more often, over half of all binge drinks are consumed by the over-35s.
Underage drinkers also frequently binge drink. Most under-21s who report consuming alcohol also report binge drinking, according to the CDC’s MMWR (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report).
Between 50% and 60% of college students who report consuming alcohol report binge drinking, too.
The first month of freshman year is the period of highest risk for drinking. Peer pressure and fraternity house initiations are all part of the college experience for many students in the US.
If you frequently binge drink, you are exposing yourself to a battery of negative consequences.
Alcohol abuse can trigger many adverse health effects, both physical and mental. These include:
- Alcohol poisoning
- Liver disease
- Neurological damage
- Heart attack
- Increased risk of some cancers
- Compromised immune system
- Co-occurring mental health disorders
- Mood changes
- Cognitive impairments
- Memory issues
Binge drinking at college can also lead to the following:
- Impaired judgment leading to risky behaviors
- Increased chance of injuries
- Heightened risk of assault
- Poor performance in class
- More chance of using other substances, including tobacco and illicit drugs
- Possible legal ramifications
If you continue to engage in this pattern of alcohol abuse without ever considering how to stop binge drinking, there is every chance this intemperate consumption could lead to alcohol use disorder. SAMHSA data shows that the younger you are at the point of starting drinking, the higher the likelihood you will develop a dependence on alcohol.
Overcome Alcoholism at The District
While this type of drinking does not necessarily always lead to alcohol use disorder, sustained and habitual patterns of drinking are liable to bring about adverse outcomes over time.
If you feel you would benefit from treatment for problematic drinking patterns of any nature, we can help here at The District Recovery Community.
Our outpatient rehab programs help you attack your alcoholism or drinking issues without the cost or restrictions of inpatient treatment.
FDA-approved medications can help soothe the intensity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, while at the same time minimizing your cravings. In addition to medication-assisted treatment, our programs also offer access to the following:
- Counseling (individual and group)
- Psychotherapies (CBT and DBT)
- Holistic therapies
- Adventure therapies
- Vocational development programs
When you complete one of our evidence-based treatment programs for alcohol use disorder, you’ll leave TDRC with all the aftercare you need in place for sustained sobriety. We appreciate that recovery is a process not an isolated event, and we’re here to support you every step of the way. To get started, call admissions right now at 844.287.8506.