The website dictionary.com defines the word “binge” as, “a period or bout, usually brief, of excessive indulgence.”
It’s akin to the word “spree,” where the person throws caution to the wind and does something to excess. In a way, this sounds like fun. The person sheds the shackles of responsibility and cuts loose in a brief period of unrestrained hedonism. Who wouldn’t want to go on a spree from time to time? But when it comes to alcohol, a binge can be deadly, both for the drinker and for those who come into contact with a drinker. It’s not something that should be encouraged, and people who indulge in alcoholic sprees on a repeat basis often need a wake-up call so they can get the help they need to stop binge drinking once and for all.
Define Binge Drinking
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a binge-drinking session can be defined quite easily. When men drink five or more alcoholic beverages during a short period of time or women drink four or more alcoholic beverages during the same time period, this is considered a binge drinking session. When researchers conduct studies to determine the prevalence and significance of the binge-drinking issue, these are the figures they use to define the problem.
This definition isn’t without controversy, however. It’s a fact that alcohol is metabolized at a slightly different rate in different people depending on a variety of factors, including weight, height and tolerance to alcohol. Some people who are quite tall and quite heavy could drink multiple drinks in one sitting without being impaired, while another person a few barstools down could have just two drinks in the same time period and be unable to walk out the door.
It’s a bit difficult to come up with a hard-and-fast rule that applies to all people at all times.
Researchers writing for the Social Research Centre in England theorized that a definition of binge drinking contains a twinge of Puritanism, in that some people wish that others wouldn’t drink at all, and these people would label any sort of drinking as binge drinking. These researchers attempted to account for this bias by surveying a wide group of people and asking them how they would define binge drinking. In the end, the researchers reported that binge drinking sessions should be defined as having these characteristics:
The person drinks with the explicit intention of getting drunk.
Drinking to the point where the person loses control is the point of the exercise.
The person drinks as much as possible in a shortest period of time possible.
It can be a social event but socialization isn’t typically the goal; getting drunk is.
The person must actually be drunk at the end of the session.
In the end, these may be academic exercises that interest people in clinical areas of research, but have little interest for regular people. In fact, it’s safe to say that most people can spot a drinking binge when they see it: The person drinks to get drunk and succeeds in that task. This is an easy way to define binging.
The Scope of the Problem
The stereotypical binge drinker is a college student who drinks to excess on the weekends with his or her friends. This stereotype is certainly accurate to some extent. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 18-to-34-year age group has the largest number of binge drinkers. However, the CDC also reports that people older than 65 tend to binge drink most often.
In a separate fact sheet, the CDC breaks down the statistics about binge drinking in the following way:
About 92% of American adults report binge drinking in the past month.
Approximately 90% of alcohol consumed by people younger than 21 is consumed in binge drinking sessions.
About 75% of alcoholic drinks consumed by adults take the form of binge drinking.
Binge drinking is higher among men that it is among women.
It’s clear that the problem of binge drinking extends much further than the college campus. Almost anyone anywhere could be impacted by binge drinking and suffer major consequences as a result.
Results of Binge Drinking
Binge drinking sessions place a high demand on the liver. This organ works hard to remove alcohol from the system, and during binge drinking sessions, the liver goes into overdrive to undo the damage and put the system back into a normal state. People who binge drink on a regular basis could do severe damage to their livers, and often, this sort of damage simply cannot be undone. Long-term binge drinking can also cause damage to the heart.
In addition to the health problems caused by long-term binge drinking, the habit also causes a significant amount of problems in the short term, including:
Unintended pregnancy. Drunkenness can reduce inhibitions, and people may engage in unprotected sex as a result.
Sexually transmitted diseases. As inhibitions decrease and a sense of invincibility grows, the person may be less inclined to use protection.
Broken bones, drowning or burns. People who are drunk are uncoordinated, and they may suffer a wide variety of accidents as a result.
Firearm injuries, sexual assault and domestic violence. Binge drinking has been linked to an increase in aggression, which could cause the person to act in a violent manner, or be the victim of another aggressor in a charged atmosphere where everyone is drunk.
A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association also reports that people who binge drink are 14 times more likely to drive while impaired than are people who do not binge drink. These people could be injured due to their drunk driving, but they could also hurt other people when they climb behind the wheel after a night of binge drinking. It’s clear that these sessions do harm to the community, as well as the drinker.
This sentiment was echoed in a separate study published in another edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Here, researchers looked at the consequences of binge drinking on college campuses. Researchers found that students who attend schools with high rates of binge drinking are more likely to be victims of violence, sexual assault or unwanted sexual advances, compared to students who attended schools with low rates of binge drinking.
It’s clear that, even though the binge drinker might think that the behavior is private and somehow harmless, the statistics don’t bear out that thinking.
Most experts state that people who binge drink are not alcoholics. They report that binge drinkers often put many days or weeks between their drinking sessions, which isn’t something that an alcoholic would be able to do. It is possible, however, that some people who think of themselves as occasional binge drinkers would actually fit into a diagnosis of alcoholism. As an example, the group Alcoholics Anonymous places a questionnaire on its website that is designed to help people determine whether or not they have a problem with drinking. At least two questions contained in that questionnaire could seemingly apply to binge drinkers, including questions regarding asking for extra drinks at parties and blacking out after drinking. It could be possible then that some binge drinkers are traveling down a dangerous road that ends in alcoholism.
When Help Is Needed
In general, people who engage in binge drinking on a regular basis may benefit from a loving and supportive conversation about the behavior.
People who drink and drive, neglect their children or become violent during their binges put themselves and others at risk, and this isn’t the sort of behavior that should be accepted and allowed to continue. In addition, people younger than 21 put themselves at risk for arrest for their drinking, and they might also need a talk. Young people often believe that they are invincible, and they may truly believe that they’ll never be arrested for their behavior. Sadly, many young people are arrested for their drinking, and this could put a damper on their career plans.
In an intervention, the family can outline the risks of binge drinking, and point out specific instances where the person’s behavior was dangerous or otherwise unacceptable. In a standard intervention, the person is asked to enter an inpatient program for addiction and go through a lengthy process of counseling and perhaps medication-assisted detoxification. People who binge drink may not need this level of intensive care, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. In fact, most people who abuse alcohol in binge drinking sessions benefit from a series of four or five short therapy sessions with a qualified interventionist. These sessions can be incredibly helpful in helping the person understand why he or she participates in the act, and why he or she should stop binge drinking right away. This could change the course of the person’s life, helping him or her avoid the terrible consequences of binge drinking.
If you suspect someone in your life suffers from binge drinking but you aren’t sure how to help them stop, give us a call today. We can discuss the pros and cons of staging an intervention for this individual with you.