Understanding the Risks of Binge Drinking
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans define moderate drinking as two drinks or less in a day for men or one drink or less per day for women. However, since many people associate drinking with socializing with friends, it’s common for people to try to moderate their alcohol intake by “saving up” drinks from the week to justify a night of partying on Friday or Saturday.
Unfortunately, new research has found that a night out binge drinking with friends may be more harmful than having a drink with dinner every day of the week. Binge drinking is defined as consuming the amount of alcohol required to bring an average-sized person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08%. This is typically five or more drinks on one occasion for men or four or more drinks on one occasion for women.
Binge drinking is much more common in men than women, with 80% of binge drinking cases involving men. However, it is a common misconception that binge drinking is associated with young adults. Over half of all binge drinking is done by adults over age 35.
New Research Shows That Binge Drinking Is More Dangerous Than Moderate Drinking
A study published in the June 2022 edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine looked at the effects of both moderate drinking and heavy drinking. Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin surveyed 1,229 drinkers ages 30 and older in 2004 to 2005, then followed up in 2015 to 2016. This data was taken from two waves of the Midlife Development in the United States study, a national longitudinal study of a wide age range of Americans that attempted to look at various aspects of older adulthood related to health, relationships, and social support.
For the purpose of their research, they defined moderate drinking as having an average of one drink per day over the course of a week regardless of gender. They found that study subjects in the moderate drinking group accounted for an eye-popping 70% of binge drinking cases—with many drinking their week’s worth of alcohol in a single sitting.
Binge drinking increased the risk of alcohol-related health problems nearly fivefold. At the conclusion of the nine-year research period, the binge drinkers had more than double the risk of multiple health problems compared to participants who didn’t binge drink. Based on their findings, the study authors recommended that screenings for alcohol problems focus on how much a person drinks instead of how often they drink.
UT Austin psychology professor Charles Holahan, Ph.D., one of the researchers involved in the study, said, “What this means is that an individual whose total consumption is seven drinks on Saturday night presents a greater risk profile than someone whose total consumption is a daily drink with dinner, even though their average drinking level is the same.”
Study co-author Rudolf Moos, Ph.D., professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine, stressed that the public needs to be better informed about the risk associated with binge drinking. “In both scientific and media discussions of moderate drinking, the pattern of drinking is generally overlooked,” he said. “This leaves many drinkers mistakenly assuming that a moderate average level of consumption is safe, regardless of drinking pattern.”
The Dangers of Binge Drinking
Why is binge drinking so dangerous? Binge drinking is associated with:
- Increased alcohol tolerance
- Increased risk of liver damage
- Increased risk of accidental injury, including drunk driving car accidents
- Increased risk of unprotected sex leading to STDs and unplanned pregnancy
- Increased risk of alcohol poisoning
- Weakened immune system
- Memory impairment
- Exacerbated mental health problems
- Increased risk of cancer of the liver, colon, rectum, mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus
- Increased risk of dementia as a person ages
Gray Area Drinking Is Often Characterized by This Pattern of Binge Drinking
Because it’s such common behavior, people who engage in binge drinking as opposed to drinking one or two drinks per day often struggle to define their relationship with alcohol. They may have a sense that drinking is not having positive effects on their mental or physical well-being but question whether their drinking is problematic enough to warrant treatment.
Gray area drinking is not a medical diagnosis. It’s a concept popularized by Jolene Park in a 2017 TED talk. Gray area drinkers are putting their health at risk but don’t meet the diagnostic criteria for an alcohol use disorder. However, because alcohol use disorders are progressive illnesses, gray area drinkers may eventually reach the point where addiction treatment is needed.
Get the Support You Need to Move Forward
If you’re concerned about your alcohol intake, your first step should be to discuss the issue with your healthcare provider. If they recommend seeking substance abuse treatment, Waypoint Recovery Center can help. At our Cameron, South Carolina, facility, we help clients begin their recovery journey with addiction treatment that is personalized to fit their unique needs. If you’d like to learn more, contact our admissions representatives today.