You have probably heard of binge drinking before. Whether it’s behavior on a college campus, or someone having a few too many drinks at the bar after work, binge drinking can seem relatively common. Unfortunately, binge drinking isn’t harmless, and it can lead to an addiction. It’s crucial to recognize the signs that you or a loved one might be developing an alcohol use disorder.
Binge Drinking Definition
The definition of binge drinking is based on gender and the number of drinks a person consumes. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provide binge drinking definitions based upon the amount of alcohol consumed.
How Many Drinks Is Considered Binge Drinking?
The NIAAA3 defines binge drinking as a level of alcohol consumption that brings the blood alcohol content to .08 percent or above, which typically occurs after a man consumes five or more drinks or a woman consumes four or more drinks over a period of about two hours.
SAMHSA provides a similar definition3 of binge drinking, defining it as men consuming five or more alcoholic beverages on one occasion or women consuming four or more drinks on one occasion.
Keep in mind that a standard drink5 is considered five ounces of wine, a 12-ounce serving of beer, 8–9 ounces of malt liquor, or a 1.5-ounce shot of distilled spirits.
Drinking in moderation3, on the other hand, is defined as two or fewer drinks per day for a man or no more than one drink per day for women.
Binge Drinking Facts & Statistics
According to data from the NIAAA2, 25.8% of adults in the United States binge drink within a given month. The following binge drinking statistics have also been reported by the NIAAA2:
- 29.7% of men aged 18 and older binge drink within a given month.
- 22.2% of women binge drink over the course of a month.
- 6.3% of adults in the United States engage in heavy alcohol use, defined as five or more episodes of binge drinking over the course of a month.
Compare these overall statistics to those in the state of New Jersey, where government data7 shows that 13.5% of adults binge drink in a given month. New Jersey’s binge drinking rates are particularly high among males aged 18-34, of whom 32.7% binge drink over the course of a month.
Binge Drinking Effects
While binge drinking is relatively common, it is not without consequences. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC1) reports, there are numerous health problems linked to binge drinking. Some effects of binge drinking can occur quickly, whereas others are more long-term in nature, occurring over time after repeated binge drinking episodes.
Short Term Effects of Binge Drinking
Over the short term, binge drinking is linked to several1 problems:
- Alcohol poisoning
- Injuries from falling
- Injuries and death from automobile accidents
- Increased risk of violence and sexual assault
Long Term Effects of Binge Drinking
Repeated heavy alcohol use can lead to serious consequences1:
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Unplanned pregnancy
- Problems related to pregnancy and childbirth, such as miscarriage, stillbirth, fetal alcohol syndrome and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Increased risk of several types of cancer
- Problems with learning and memory
- Heart disease and stroke
- Liver diseases
Some long-term effects occur because of the way excessive alcohol consumption affects behavior. For instance, someone is more likely to lose their inhibitions and engage in risky behavior when they binge drink, which can lead to unprotected sex and driving under the influence. Excessive alcohol use can also damage the body and contribute to conditions1 like liver disease and cancer, which can occur after long-term alcohol abuse.
Beyond the short-term and long-term health problems linked to binge drinking, heavy alcohol use increases the risk of an alcohol use disorder, which is the clinical term for an alcohol addiction4.
Is Binge Drinking Alcoholism?
Binge drinking itself does not represent alcoholism, but heavy alcohol use can be a sign of an alcohol use disorder. Repeated binge drinking can eventually lead to an alcohol use disorder.
When considering binge drinking vs. alcoholism, it’s important to note that binge drinking on its own is the act of consuming large quantities of alcohol within a short period of time. It’s one event.
On the other hand, someone with an alcohol use disorder4 struggles to stop drinking over time, even when it causes serious consequences at work, at home or in personal relationships. Someone who binge drinks and does not have an alcohol use disorder may engage in binge drinking on occasion, but otherwise be able to control their alcohol consumption.
That said, repeated binge drinking can eventually lead to an alcohol use disorder. Someone who binge drinks repeatedly is likely to develop a tolerance6 for alcohol, meaning they need more and more to achieve the same effects. Over time, they may become dependent on alcohol in a way that the body doesn’t function normally without it.
As someone becomes dependent upon alcohol, they may develop other symptoms4 of an alcohol use disorder, such as strong cravings, drinking larger amounts than intended and drinking even when it is dangerous to do so.
Binge drinking isn’t alcoholism, but it can lead to an alcohol use disorder. It can also be a sign of alcoholism, since someone with an alcohol use disorder is likely to consume large quantities of alcohol.
How to Stop Binge Drinking
Even if you haven’t developed an alcohol use disorder, stopping binge drinking is worth considering, given the fact that this behavior is linked to numerous health consequences. If you want to stop binge drinking, you could consider practicing moderation. When you go out with friends or want to have a drink with dinner, limit yourself to what experts call moderate drinking3: two drinks or less per day for men, and one drink or less for women.
If drinking in moderation doesn’t seem like a good fit for you, you might consider quitting alcohol “cold turkey”. Phone applications are popular options to help you set and track goals, such as eliminating alcohol use. Seeing how many days you’ve stayed alcohol-free can be motivating.
It’s also helpful to have a support system. Explain to a few friends or loved ones that you’re giving up alcohol, and discuss taking on new hobbies together. You might also consider spending more time with your non-drinking friends, so you can socialize without involving alcohol.
Binge Drinking Treatment
If you have tried to stop binge drinking but find that you cannot cut back on alcohol use, you may be living with an alcohol use disorder, which is a legitimate medical condition4. If this is the case, professional treatment will likely be needed to help you overcome your alcohol addiction and learn how to cope with stressors without turning to alcohol.
Given the fact that alcohol withdrawal symptoms8 can be uncomfortable, and in rare cases, fatal, most binge drinking treatment programs begin with a medical detox program, where patients receive around-the-clock care and support to keep them as safe and comfortable as possible as the body rids itself of alcohol.
After completing a medical detox program, it is important to transition to an ongoing treatment program to address the underlying issues that led to alcohol abuse and addiction. Some patients may transition into an inpatient treatment center, where they live on site and participate in therapy and other recovery-oriented activities after they complete detox. Others may transition to outpatient care, which allows them to live at home and maintain employment and family duties while reporting to a clinic or treatment center for counseling and other addiction treatments.
Related: How Long Does it Take to Detox From Alcohol?
After successfully completing alcohol addiction treatment, it is helpful to participate in aftercare support, such as 12-step meetings, to help you maintain your sobriety. Support group meetings keep you connected to the recovery community and allow you to maintain your sobriety after treatment.
For those in the South Jersey area, The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper offers comprehensive alcohol addiction treatment and is convenient to New Jersey and the Greater Philadelphia area. We offer medical detox, as well as inpatient and outpatient treatment and aftercare programming. Contact us today to learn more about the admissions process and to begin your journey toward recovery.
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- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Binge Drinking.” December 30, 2019. Accessed December 26, 2021.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” June 2021. Accessed December 26, 2021.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Drinking Levels Defined.” Accessed December 26, 2021.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” April 2021. Accessed December 26, 2021.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “What Is A Standard Drink?” Accessed December 26, 2021.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Is there a difference between physica[…]ce and addiction?” Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition), December 2, 2020. Accessed December 26, 2021.
- New Jersey State Health Assessment Data. “Health Indicator Report of Alcohol Consu[…] – Binge Drinking.” December 17, 2021. Accessed December 26, 2021.
- Sachdeva, Ankur, et al. “Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Benzodiazepines and Beyond.” Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research, September 2015. Accessed December 26, 2021.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.