Binge Drinking Alcohol: Effects, Risks, & Treatment

Binge drinking significantly impacts individuals, families, and society as a whole and can contribute to many long-term illnesses, including alcohol use disorder (AUD). Despite these dangers, about 1 in 6 adults report binge drinking, with 25% of them reporting doing so weekly.1

This page will go over the effects and risks of binge drinking, as well as treatment options for alcohol addiction.

What Is Considered Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is defined as:1

  • 5 or more standard drinks for men on one occasion.
  • 4 or more standard drinks for women on one occasion.

These guidelines estimate the amount of alcohol consumption that would bring a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) up to .08%.1

Standard drinks are usually defined as:2

  • 5 fluid ounces of distilled spirits such as vodka, whiskey, tequila, gin, or rum.
  • 12 fluid ounces of beer with 5% alcohol content by volume.
  • 8-10 fluid ounces of malt liquor with 7% or more alcohol content by volume.
  • 5 fluid ounces of table wine.
  • 2-3 fluid ounces of aperitif, liqueur, or cordial.
  • 3-4 fluid ounces of fortified wine.

Effects & Dangers of Binge Drinking

Binge drinking accounts for many public health problems associated with alcohol misuse and most of the consequences and costs associated with alcohol consumption.1

Some of the common short-term effects of alcohol and risks associated with binge drinking include:1

  • Injuries sustained by drinking and driving or other risky behavior associated with binge drinking.
  • Risky sexual behavior resulting in unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.
  • Problems with pregnancy such as stillbirth or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, if a woman continues to binge drink during pregnancy.
  • Increased instances of violence, including murder.
  • Increased instances of sexual harassment or assault.
  • Alcohol poisoning.

Binge drinking episodes do not necessarily mean someone has an alcohol use disorder (AUD), which is the clinical term for alcohol addiction. However, people who binge drink are at increased risk for developing AUD.1

Alcohol Poisoning from Binge Drinking

Alcohol poisoning—also called alcohol overdose—happens when a person consumes enough alcohol that the body begins to shut down and as a result, basic bodily functions such as breathing, temperature regulation, and heart rate are in jeopardy2

Alcohol poisoning is a significant risk to anyone who engages in binge drinking and can result in brain damage and even death.2

Some signs of alcohol poisoning include:2

  • Slow or dull responses to stimuli.
  • Vomiting.
  • Mental confusion.
  • Blue, pale, or clammy skin.
  • Low body temperature.
  • Slow heart rate.
  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Seizures.
  • Inability to rouse from sleep.

Health risks increase as the blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) level increases, and BAC levels may continue to rise even after someone stops drinking for the evening or passes out. Therefore, it is crucial that someone who exhibits some of the above signs gets immediate medical attention.2

Heavy Drinking vs. Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is the most costly and common form of excessive drinking, but other types of excessive alcohol use—like heavy drinking—can be problematic as well.1 Heavy drinking may be defined as:4

  • Consuming 15 or more alcoholic beverages per week for men.
  • Consuming 8 or more alcoholic drinks per week for women.
  • 5 or more episodes of binge drinking in a month.

It is possible for a person to be a daily drinker and not fall into the category of binge drinking or heavy drinking, and it is also possible that someone is considered both a heavy drinker and a binge drinker.4 Both patterns of problematic drinking can lead to developing AUD and other long-term consequences, such as:1,4

  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Social problems.
  • Problems with employment, including job loss.
  • Learning or memory problems including dementia.
  • Heart disease.
  • Liver disease.
  • Various types of cancer.
  • Stroke.

Binge Drinking in Young Adults

Young adults, especially those attending college, have a generally high prevalence of binge drinking.2,5

According to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 29.2% of young adults between 18 and 25 years old reported binge drinking in the past month.6

Binge drinking in young adults can be very problematic because of the effect that it has on brain development. Our brains continue to develop until 25 years of age.7 Parts of the developing brain affected by substance use include:8

  • The prefrontal cortex, which powers decision-making, impulse control, planning ability, and problem-solving.
  • The amygdala, which is vital to the perception and management of stress and anxiety.
  • The basal ganglia, which is involved in motivation, habit-formation, and the production of  positive feelings for activities such as eating, social interaction, and sex.
  • The brain stem, which is essential to critical life functions like regulating heart rate, breathing, and sleep cycles.

Is Binge Drinking an Alcohol Use Disorder?

No, binge drinking does not necessarily mean someone has an alcohol use disorder, though people with AUD may binge drink.1 Alcohol use disorder is a behavioral health condition characterized by continued drinking despite it causing clinically significant damage to someone’s life.9

Alcohol addiction is diagnosed by a medical professional when someone exhibits specific signs of alcohol use disorder that are outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Someone that exhibits 2 of the following within 12 months may be diagnosed with an AUD:9

  1. Using more alcohol than intended or for longer periods than intended.
  2. Making unsuccessful attempts or having the desire to cut back or control drinking.
  3. Spending lots of time getting alcohol, drinking, or recovering from drinking.
  4. Experiencing strong cravings for alcohol.
  5. Alcohol hinders one’s ability to fulfil responsibilities at home, school, or work.
  6. Continuing to drink despite ongoing social issues caused or worsened by alcohol.
  7. Giving up or reducing social, work, or leisure activities to drink.
  8. Drinking in situations that can be dangerous, like driving.
  9. Drinking despite knowing it has caused or is worsening a physical or mental health issue.
  10. Tolerance, where more alcohol is needed to get intoxicated, or one does not feel the desired  intoxicating effects from the same amount of alcohol.
  11. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when cutting back or stopping alcohol use.

Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder in Mississippi

Alcohol use disorder is a treatable condition with a proper and sustainable recovery program that is tailored to your needs.9 Starting recovery as soon as possible is ideal; begin your road to recovery journey today.

Call to start addiction treatment or learn more about our inpatient alcohol rehab in Mississippi and other levels of addiction treatment. Compassionate and knowledgeable admissions navigators can also answer questions about insurance coverage and payment options to help make care more affordable to you and your family.

You can also verify your insurance coverage using the confidential .

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