To many people, binge drinking conjures images of self-destructive and reckless drinking that lasts for at least two days and has the binge drinker engaging in irresponsible and risky behavior. This view is very much consistent with what Hollywood movies portray, as well as the stereotypical ‘best way’ to enjoy college down-time.
The same view is also consistent with what medical professionals think, and describes binge drinking as an extended period of time during which an individual becomes so intoxicated as to give up their usual activities to indulge in self-intoxication. Clearly, two major points emerge: the prolonged use (or abuse) of alcohol and the giving up of normal activities (school, work) in order to get intoxicated.
The World Health Organization defines binge drinking as consuming six or more standard drinks in a single drinking occasion. However, some researchers have argued that this definition is not apt, such a quantity of alcohol can be consumed in an evening of socializing and eating, without being done in a reckless manner.
Regardless of the definition, drinking to drunkenness and continually subjecting the brain to the withdrawal effects of large alcohol consumption is very damaging to the brain. Many governments and alcohol regulatory authorities specify guidelines for safe drinking (3-4 units of alcohol for men and 2-3 units of alcohol for women), and going above the limits would constitute binge drinking.
How do you recognize binge drinking?
A couple of glasses of wine might not seem like a lot. But consuming a full bottle in a short span of time, say an hour, is a lot of alcohol, which will very likely make you drunk quickly. Drinking the same amount of alcohol slowly (over the period of an afternoon and with occasional food intake), might leave you feeling a bit tipsy, but with little less effect to the blood alcohol level.
Unfortunately, it’s the goal of many young drinkers to get drunk quickly, and they will resort to consuming alcohol quickly in short time spans to get intoxicated much faster. With intoxication comes a host of dangers, which include vomiting, alcohol poisoning, dizziness, nausea, and in severe cases, fatality.
But far beyond these is another, less obvious danger: alcohol dependency.
Frequent intoxication to the point of becoming alcohol dependent is becoming more and more common. Dependence is partly hereditary and partly determined by your attitude towards alcohol. People who come from families with alcoholics have a higher chance of becoming alcoholics themselves, but it is perfectly possible to become an alcoholic without a family history. It all comes down to your attitude and the decisions you make concerning alcohol.
Like most other recreational substances, alcohol is addictive. Signs of addiction include worrying about where you will get your next drink, to waking up to wanting to get intoxicated. The compulsive need to drink is also associated with alcohol addiction, and any withdrawal attempts bring with it serious symptoms like nausea, shaking, and sweating, among others.
You should be worried if you can’t go a couple of days without a drink. If you find it hard to get through Monday or Tuesday without alcohol, then it is pretty clear you might have an issue.
The extent of binge drinking
Despite the continued barrage of reports, articles and entertainment media that portray binge drinking as a growing epidemic, the facts show the contrary. As Prof David J. Hanson of the State University of New York shows in his report on binge drinking, rates have dropped by almost a third since 1980 among American high schools seniors. His study also shows a decline among college students, a group that many in society love to identify as binge drinking culprits.
However, this impression could be due to the fact that young adults believe that college life is all about bingeing and wait until college to adopt this lifestyle. This belief makes them more likely to engage in such behavior in order to conform to their perception of college life. Correcting such a negative perception early helps to educate students about the dangers of binge drinking and possibly put an end to the alcohol abuse that has long been par for the course at universities.
The effects of binge drinking
Overconsumption of alcohol, in any setting, has significant effects on your mental and physical health. Sure, drinking in small quantities might seem harmless, but doing it continually over a long period is sure to get you hooked.
Accidents and falls are perhaps the most common signs of intoxication. A person in a drunken state is unable to control their balance and coordination, and thus is more prone to falling over and possibly injuring themselves. Alcohol can also be overdosed on, just like other drugs, and its effect are sometimes deadly (difficulty in breathing, heart stopping, choking.)
Binge drinking from an early age can become a bad habit. Studies have shown that persons who drink a lot in their teenage years are likely to be binge drinkers in their later adult years, barring any changes in lifestyle. Such studies also show that men are more likely to binge drink, and start at younger ages.
I can’t tell if I’m a binge drinker
At this point, it’s clear that binge drinking is more than just the quantity of alcohol consumed. The frequency also matters a lot, and if you find it hard to stop drinking once you’ve started, it could be a sign of trouble. Those who get drunk quickly should also take stock, as over-indulgence in such a state could have far worse health implications for them.
If you are worried that you might be over-indulging in alcohol, are dependent on it, or can’t seem to be satisfied until fully intoxicated, you should seek help. A doctor may be able to suggest ways to cut down your alcohol consumption, and even give you suggestions to great counselling services. A lot of people experience shame and embarrassment about alcohol dependency, but know that you are not alone and the issue is incredibly common. Alcohol is addictive and that is just about physiology, not morality.
But you have to be willing to change. Altering your perception to alcohol takes a lot of determination and hard work, and is possible only if you set your mind to it.