“Everybody binges on booze once in a while…”
“It’s all a part of growing up...”
“My fondest memories of college life are when I’d get smashed on Saturday nights with my best friends…” “I don’t drink everyday – so what’s the big deal if I have a good time once in a while?”
Alcohol is widely considered synonymous with parties, fun and festivity. No wonder most of us just smile tolerantly when a friend nurses a hangover the morning after, and dismiss our own excesses as nothing but fun. But here’s a dampener: in medical terms, we do much more harm to our bodies when we drink a lot in a short span of time, than we would do if we drank a moderate amount more regularly (abstinence of course being the best bet, healthwise).
There was a time when the term Binge Drinking used to mean drinking heavily over several days. Today, the definition has changed. Heavy consumption of alcohol over a short period of time is now what is generally accepted as Binge Drinking (just as binge eating means a specific period of uncontrolled overeating).
As a definition, it’s simple enough, you’d imagine. But the fact is that researchers (and drinkers) across the world have very diverse opinions about what constitutes Bingeing – how many glasses of alcohol do you need before you qualify as having binged? Are five glasses of wine comparable to five shots of vodka? If you have drunk six glasses of booze and can still walk straight, does it mean you have a greater tolerance for alcohol and therefore haven’t quite binged yet?
 Defining Binge Drinking
The generally accepted definition of Binge Drinking in the United States is the consumption of five or more drinks in a day by men, and four or more drinks a day by women -- at least once in a fortnight. More than three drunken binges a fortnight constitutes heavy binge drinking.
By this definition, most people who are social drinkers would have binged sometime or the other in their lives. In fact, many researchers argue that this definition trivializes the issue of binge drinking.
European definitions are less prudish – a Swedish study says that half a bottle of spirits or two bottles of wine on the same occasion constitutes a binge. An Italian study had an even more relaxed definition, and considered even eight drinks a day as normal drinking -- and not bingeing. The UK defines a binge as the consumption of eleven or more drinks a day!
In many ways, this debate over defining bingeing is because different cultures perceive `normal’ and `abnormal’ drinking differently. A medical definition is perhaps more objective. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that alcohol consumption which raises brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above, constitutes a binge. Typically, this happens when men consume more than four drinks and women consume more than three drinks in about 2 hours. The institute also defines what constitutes one serving of alcohol: for beer, a 12 ounce bottle constitutes one drink. A similar size bottle of malt liquor equals one and a half drinks. A standard 750 ml bottle of table wine contains five drinks.
 Why Do People Binge Drink?
Liquor advertisements, Saturday nights in the local bar and that snobbish wine steward in a chi chi French restaurant all convey only one thing to consumers – alcohol is cool, alcohol is fun and alcohol is what you drink with friends to have a good time. Add to that the fact that there is a lot of peer pressure in campuses and parties for people to drink.
Several other factors are at work in young people’s minds when they pick up a glass too many. Here are some --
- They are curious about what it feels like to drink, and are open to experimentation.
- They see the glossy booze ads and believe drinking will make them feel good.
- They may believe that alcohol will help them beat stress
- They think drinking will make them feel and look older and more sophisticated.
 Did You Know?
- The rate of binge drinking among men is 3 times the rate of women.
- Binge drinkers are fourteen times more likely to get caught for alcohol-impaired driving than non-binge drinkers.
- As much as ninety per cent of the alcohol consumed by under-eighteens in the US, is in the form of binge drinks.
- Three quarters of all the alcohol consumed in the US, is by bingeing.
- 52.1 per cent of American binge drinkers are in the 18 to 20 year old age range.
 Fallouts of Binge Drinking
She can handle any champagne brunch
A bridal shower with Bacardi punch
Jello shooters full of Smirnoff
But tequila makes her clothes fall off… (Lyrics of popular country song by Joe Nichols)
Somehow, even the best of us drink without thinking of the morning after. But being hung-over or throwing up are some of the less painful effects of Binge Drinking. Binge drinking carries more serious and longer-lasting risks as well.
Alcohol Poisoning is the most serious and immediate consequences of binge drinking. This causes the impairment of the body’s involuntary reflexes — including breathing and the gag reflex. So a person who has binge drunk more than his body can handle, may not be able to breathe properly, or could even choke to death on his or her vomit. Here are some of the other symptoms --
- Slow or irregular breathing
- Low body temperature
- Bluish or pale skin
- Inability to be awakened
- Extreme confusion
Alcohol Poisoning requires immediate medical care, so if you notice any of the above symptoms in anyone, rush to the emergency ward of the nearest hospital.
Binge Drinkers also display impaired judgment, and are more likely to take risks they might not themselves take when they're sober. Driving, walking and other motor skills are affected. In 2000, roughly one third of pedestrians 16 and older who were killed in traffic accidents were drunk.
Binge Drinkers also display other risky behaviours because of impaired judgment. They may have unprotected sex, putting them at greater risk of a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or unplanned pregnancy.
The mental health of binge drinkers also gets affected. They are more likely to drop out of school. They may also find it tough to retain friends. Drinking is known to affect the personality – binge drinkers may find they get more angry or moody.
Heavy binge drinkers also show a predisposition towards Alcoholism, addiction to alcohol. Also, it has several long term health consequences including heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders. For people who started drinking later in life and those who drink moderately, the risks are much lower for health conditions known as the metabolic syndrome. This syndrome refers to a cluster of metabolic risk factors that increase the chances of developing heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Several studies have noted the difference between stable drinkers (who drink moderately but regularly) and Binge Drinkers. Binge drinkers are at a higher risk for developing the metabolic syndrome, even though they may drink fewer amounts of alcohol than steady drinkers.
 Busting Some Common Myths about Drinking
- Myth: Beer gets you less drunk than other `hard’ liquor.
- Fact: One 12-ounce can of beer, one 4-ounce glass of wine or one normal mixed drink or cocktail are all equally potent.
- Myth: `Mixing’ drinks gets you drunk faster.
- Fact: Mixing types of drinks may give you a stomach upset, but it won’t get you any drunker than you stick to one drink.
- Myth: Cold showers, fresh air and hot coffee help sober a person.
- Fact: Nothing can help take the alcohol out of the bloodstream, except time. It takes an hour approximately for our body to eliminate the alcohol in one peg. Go figure how long it would take if you’ve been on a binge…
- Myth: If you drink on a full stomach, you’ll stay sober.
- Fact: food in the stomach only delays the absorption of alcohol – once you drink alcohol, your system has to absorb it. So eating before drinking will not prevent you from getting drunk.
 Getting Help
The first step towards correcting the problem of binge drinking is to acknowledge it. Most adults pooh pooh away the idea that if they tend to `overindulge’ in parties, they may be damaging their health.
Often, binge drinking happens because of peer pressure. For example, a six hour poker game or that Saturday night party where everyone’s idea of a good time is to get drunk, are times when a non-drinking person stands out like a sore thumb. Go to such places with friends who don’t drink, or who are supportive.
Sometimes, talking about peer pressure makes people realize that they aren’t the only ones going through it – to know you’re not alone in your problem is a strangely empowering experience.
Counselling, especially brief counseling (a short, focused session in which the physician or counselor urges patients to reduce their alcohol intake) – also helps. A study published in the September-October 2004 Annals of Family Medicine, found that among 226 young adults given brief alcohol counseling, there was a 40 to 50 percent decrease in alcohol use, 42 percent fewer emergency department visits (103 vs. 177), 55 percent fewer motor vehicle crashes (9 vs. 20), and 23 percent fewer total motor vehicle events (114 vs. 149). They also found significant differences in the number of arrests for controlled substance or liquor violations (0 vs. 8).
 Additional Information
- For more on drinking problem please see Binge Drinking: A Serious Unrecognized Problem
- For more on drink size, go to What’s a Standard Drink?
- Binge Drinking
- Binge Drinking Linked to Metabolic Syndrome Risks
- Tackling teen binge drinking
- What is binge drinking?
- Binge Drinking - SIRC