Binge drinking is just like any other form of bingeing. Just like bingeing on food or Netflix, it’s not the healthiest choice. So why is binge drinking dangerous? There are both short and long-term side effects of binge drinking, including the increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. Although binge drinking doesn’t equate to alcohol addiction, it is a form of alcohol abuse that can lead to various health problems.
According to research, binge drinking is the most common, expensive, and life-threatening pattern of alcohol abuse in the U.S.1,2,3 Binge drinking is defined as consuming 5 or more alcoholic drinks within two hours for men and 4 or more drinks in one period for women. While most people who binge drink do not have a formal alcohol use disorder, binge drinking is dangerous both physically and mentally.
Not only can binge drinking lead to immediate and long-term health effects, but it also increases the risk of serious injury. Because it’s an unhealthy pattern of alcohol use, binge drinking also increases the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder or addiction to alcohol. Binge drinking is most common among young adults ages 18 to 34 and twice as common among men than among women.4
Furthermore, a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 1 in 6 U.S. adults reported binge drinking in 2015. The 37 million binge drinkers in the study reported having had about one binge per week, during which they consumed an average of seven drinks. That comes out to around 17 billion total binge drinking episodes in one year.5
CDC researchers blame binge drinking for more than half of the roughly 88,000 alcohol-related deaths – including car crashes, alcohol poisoning, and suicide – that occur every year.6 Aside from this disturbing statistic, let’s narrow in on the short and long-term effects of binge drinking on people.
People usually begin to feel the effects of alcohol after 5 to 10 minutes of having a drink. Most of the alcohol in the bloodstream is broken down by the liver, while the rest is excreted through the lungs, kidneys, or sweat. The liver of an average-sized person can only break down about one standard drink an hour.
However, when people binge drink, they’re drinking enough alcohol in one sitting to raise their blood alcohol content (BAC) past the legal limit. This means a person who binge drinks is drinking more alcohol than the liver can process, causing their BAC to increase, as well as the effects of alcohol on the body.
Common short-term side effects of binge drinking include:
Binge drinking can also inflame the pancreas, stomach, and liver, and these side effects can be acute. Alcohol poisoning is also a major risk of binge drinking, as it’s marked by acute alcohol intoxication. Some common symptoms of alcohol poisoning include nausea, vomiting, seizures, coma, and death in extreme cases. If you notice any of these signs in someone who’s been drinking, call 9-1-1 or seek medical attention immediately.
Although some of the short-term effects will dissipate after only a night of binge drinking, chronic binge drinking can lead to more permanent problems. One recent study conducted on mice by researchers at the University of California at San Francisco found that 21 binge drinking episodes over seven weeks were enough to cause symptoms of early-stage liver disease.7
Although more research needs to be conducted, compared to the long-term health effects of heavy alcohol consumption, researchers can safely assume that the long-term effects of binge drinking include:
Cutting back on the frequency of alcohol one consumes can greatly reduce the likelihood of these issues, but even minor alcohol consumption comes with risks. The only way to prevent alcohol-related health problems is to avoid drinking.
As we mentioned, while binge drinking is not an addiction itself, those who binge drink are more likely to adopt heavier habits of alcohol consumption and develop an addiction. If you’re struggling to control how much and how often you drink or are unable to stop drinking even after witnessing the problems it can cause, then you should reach out for professional help.
Our Chicago addiction treatment center offers alcoholism treatment that incorporates talk therapy and psychotherapy to help clients understand the source of their drinking problem and develop effective relapse prevention strategies. We understand that maintaining your sobriety without a strong support system can be tough, which is why our rehab center in Chicago, IL, also offers family therapy.
In this program, spouses, siblings, parents, and other close loved ones of clients can learn more about addiction and how they can contribute to their loved one’s recovery. Achieving sobriety is possible with the right kind of help.