Posted on January 21, 2014 in alcohol and drug addiction

What is Binge Drinking?

It’s time to change, or at least amend, the way we think about binge drinking. Say the words and immediately one’s mind is envisioning a frat party complete with beer bongs, a sea of plastic cups and college kids puking on the front lawn. Does this image qualify as a picture of binge drinking? Yes it does, but it is an incomplete one. We need to expand the view so as to adequately encompass the far greater number of people who are suffering from binge drinking behavior—often without realizing it.

College students and spring-breakers get the bad rap for their binge drinking behavior, but they just happen to be a more visible demographic. They do not, however, comprise the largest demographic of binge drinkers; young professionals and middle-aged adults with a bit of disposable income do. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Although college students commonly binge drink, 70 percent of binge drinking episodes involve adults age 26 years and older.” They’re not doing keg stands in their friends’ basements or dancing on tables in South Padre. They are, however, putting away enough liquor, often in the comfort of their own apartments, in the homes of their friends or at the post-work happy hour, to qualify as a binge drinkers. But because it’s fine wine and sophisticated cocktails with expensive spirits, they’re divorced from the binge drinker persona of the three-two-keg beer drinker. As a result, the issue is excused, overlooked and ignored.

College students aren’t the only ones who face negative outcomes from binge drinking behavior. Adults of all ages who drink to excess face the same risks and the stakes can be even higher for those who have jobs, families and other adult responsibilities to maintain. Awareness, education and methods for quitting or getting help are needed for those who may now be well beyond their college years.

Criteria

Many people don’t realize they are binge drinkers because they are unaware of what constitutes binge drinking. According to the CDC’s website: “The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. This typically happens when men consume five or more drinks, and when women consume four or more drinks, in about two hours.”

Is It a Problem?

This seems like a silly question. While alcohol consumption is strenuously encouraged as the gateway to fun times and a fulfilling life, binge drinking is rarely publicly portrayed in a positive light. Even the kids who engage in it often sense that it is a less than healthy behavior, no matter how much they might brag about it to their friends. But binge drinking, while it can lead to alcohol poisoning and death, often does not lead to such a drastic and tragic end. The spectrum of what constitutes binge drinking is roomy, from milder to medium to extreme binging. So other than the fact that half of the next day is committed to nursing the inevitable hangover, is there anything that is so very dangerous in this kind of excessive drinking, especially if the drinker is an otherwise mature adult? If a young professional wants to go out a couple of times a month and really “have a good time,” is that something to be concerned about?

It is, because rarely is it consistently that simple. Rarely is it just a matter of a few friends walking to a bar, drinking more than their share in quick succession, hanging out a bit, having some laughs or catching a game on TV, then walking home and calling it a night. While excessive drinking causes undue strain on the liver, this is a negative health-related consequence that may not be observed for many years. There are, however, more immediate concerns associated with binge drinking.

Injuries while binge drinking are commonplace. The occurrence of trips, falls, stumbling into traffic, and injuries from fights all increase when one is under the influence of excessive alcohol. And all of this is before driving is factored into the equation. Because yes, binge drinkers will still get behind the wheel of a car. Lowered inhibition also increases one’s willingness to have unprotected sex and thus increases the risk of STDs or unintended pregnancy. Women who binge drink are at greater risk for rape and sexual assault.

There is the loss of productivity at work and in life in general that cannot be avoided, though it is often denied. The expense of heavy drinking can also lead to financial insecurity and the unpredictability of drunken behavior patterns can strain otherwise normal relationships.

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