What Is Binge Drinking?
Binge Drinking is when an individual consumes more alcohol than the legal amount in a single setting. The substance abuse and mental health services administration (SAMHSA) defines binge drinking as when an individual achieves the blood alcohol concentration of .08 within a single timeframe at least once a month.
For females this typically looks like four or more drinks in a single setting at least once a month and for males this typically looks like five or more drinks in a single setting at least once a month.
Binge Drinking is not a diagnosis. Binge Drinking refers to a behavior that an individual engages in that could potentially be a risk factor for further alcohol use consequences.
Binge Drinking vs. Heavy Alcohol Users
Individuals who participate in binge drinking at least five times a month are considered to be heavy alcohol users. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism define heavy drinking users as a man who consumes four or more drinks each day and a woman who consumes three or more drinks each day. There are two main differences between individuals who engage in binge drinking and individuals who are considered to be heavy alcohol users. The differences are the quality of alcohol that is consumed and the amount of time that the alcohol is consumed within. Binge drinkers drink a large consumption of alcohol in a single setting, where as heavy alcohol users drink a moderate consumption of alcohol on the daily basis.
Heavy alcohol users are more likely to suffer consequences directly related to alcohol.
Binge Drinking vs. Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
Individuals who engage in the behavior of binge drinking and individuals who are considered to be heavy alcohol users are more likely to suffer from consequences associated with alcohol.
The more consumption of alcohol, the more likely to have consequences as a result of alcohol.
Alcohol use disorder is commonly referred to as alcoholism and is characterized by excessive drinking that has physical, emotional and social consequences for the individual.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) illustrates diagnostic criteria for mental health disorders. The DSM-5 outlines Alcohol Use Disorder within eleven diagnostic criteria. An individual must meet two out of the eleven criteria to be diagnosed with mild alcohol use disorder, must meet four our of the eleven to be diagnosed with moderate alcohol use disorder and must meet six out of the eleven to be diagnosed with severe alcohol use disorder. The eleven criteria that identify alcohol use disorder according to the DSM-5 are the following:
Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use.
A great deal of time spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol or recover from it’s effects.
Craving, a strong desire or urge to use alcohol.
Recurrent alcohol use resulting in failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school or home.
Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol.
Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol.
Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by alcohol.
Tolerance, as defined by either of the following: A. A need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect. B. A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.
Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following: A. The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol is defined on its own in the DSM-5 and includes the following, autonomic hyperactivity (sweating, pulse rate greater than 100bpm), increased hand tremor, insomnia, nausea/vomiting, transient visual/tactile/auditory hallucinations or illusions, psychomotor agitation, anxiety and generalized tonic-clinic seizures. B. Alcohol is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Binge Drinking and COVID-19
The pandemic shifted the world as we knew it in March 2020. Individuals have been spending more time at home with many activities and businesses being closed or having capacity limitations. Many individuals have been transitioning into working from home and many parents have been forced to provide childcare for their children while homeschooling them and working from home. The unpredictability and uncertainty has created many obstacles for people and the added stress has increased mental health issues for many individuals.
An increase in mental health issues typically leads to a need to be able to cope with those issues.
If an individual is uncertain on how to cope with mental health issues, they may turn to alcohol to help them cope with the uncomfortable feelings.
There is developing evidence that alcohol consumption has increased during the pandemic. A study conducted in May of 2020 illustrated that individuals who experienced extreme stress as a result of the pandemic were consuming significantly more alcohol than those who were not experiencing added stress, (Alcohol Consumption during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Cross-Sectional Survey of US Adults). Individuals who were working in high stress environments as a result of the pandemic and/or forced to quarantine for significant lengths of time were more likely to binge drink than those who were not experiencing those situations. The more time spent at home in isolation, the more likely individuals were to drink which could lead to individuals binge drinking and/or becoming heavy alcohol users as a result of the added stress and the decrease in being ‘on the go’ at all times.
Consequences of Binge Drinking
Not all people who binge drink suffer alcohol related consequences. Some people may be able to binge drink once or twice a month throughout their lives without ever suffering any negative consequences.
However, any individual that engages in binge drinking is more likely to become a heavy alcohol user and is more likely to suffer alcohol related consequences.
An individual suffering consequences related to alcohol is more likely to become diagnosed with alcohol use disorder and more likely to possibly need treatment.
There are several consequences of binge drinking. The most obvious is possibly becoming a heavy alcohol user which could lead to further consequences associated with alcohol use disorder. The most common consequences of binge drinking are accidental injuries such as falling, drowning and motor vehicle accidents. Individuals who engage in binge drinking are more likely to engage in other risky behaviors and for that reason are more likely to engage in unsafe sex practices, obtain sexually transmitted diseases and are more likely to be involved with the police.
Individuals who engage in binge drinking are more likely to suffer from physical conditions associated with alcohol. The most immediate physical condition being alcohol poisoning and later in life suffering from poor liver conditions such as sorosis. People under the influence are more likely to commit suicide and are more likely to commit homicide (accidentally or intentionally). Alcohol is the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
Treatment for Binge Drinking
There are many facets of alcohol treatment to meet the individual needs of each person. An individual engaging in binge drinking may not be appropriate for the same treatment as a heavy alcohol user or as an individual diagnosed with alcohol use disorder. Individual therapy may be helpful for an individual engaging in binge drinking behaviors. An individual physically dependent on alcohol will need to seek a facility that offers a medical staff to help support detoxification. There are detox centers, rehabilitation centers, intensive outpatient facilities, outpatient facilities and individual therapists available for anyone seeking treatment.
If you are curious to know what treatment would be best, click here to take the alcohol use assessment.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hey, I'm Brooke! I'm an anxiety and addiction therapist serving individuals and adolescents in
the state of New Jersey. My experience brings both a personal and professional perspective to the work that I do with my clients. If you are struggling with binge drinking and would like to schedule a free consultation, I would love to chat with you!