Binge drinking has captured media attention in recent years as alcohol poisoning occurred on American college campuses and fraternity houses. Binge drinking, which can take place with or without drinking games, involves ingesting more alcohol than can be safely metabolized by the body.
Binge drinking is defined for males as consuming five or more drinks at a sitting, or four or more drinks among women. The Centers for Disease Control provides the following binge drinking facts:
- One in six adults binge drinks about four times a month, consuming about eight drinks per binge drinking session.
- Although binge drinking is more common among young adults aged 18–34 years, binge drinkers aged 35 years and older report binge drinking more often—an average of 5-6 times per month.
- Approximately 90% of adults who drink excessively report binge drinking in the past 30 days.
- Although college students commonly binge drink, 70% of binge drinking episodes involve adults ages 26 years and older.
- Most people under age 21 who drink alcohol report binge drinking.
- Binge drinking is more common among those with household incomes above $75,000 than among lower income demographics.
- The prevalence of binge drinking among men is double that of women.
Binge drinking can result in alcohol poisoning, which is a health emergency that can lead to coma or death. Also, individuals who binge drink may be at a higher risk of developing alcohol dependence later.
What Is Alcohol Poisoning?
The human body is only capable of metabolizing a certain amount of alcohol per hour. The liver can process about one ounce of liquor, meaning that consuming an excess of that amount will result in the non-metabolized alcohol accumulating in the blood. When the liver, body tissues, and bloodstream become overwhelmed by excessive alcohol it causes toxicity, or poisoning, in the body.
The signs of alcohol poisoning include:
- Fading in and out of consciousness
- Becoming unresponsive
- Having a low body temperature
- Skin becoming cool and clammy, blue-tinged
- Exhibiting mental confusion or stupor
- Breathing slows, having lapses in breathing
- Exhibiting seizures, spasms, or convulsions
- Vomiting while passed out
- Falling into a coma
Treatment for Alcohol Poisoning
When someone has engaged in binge drinking and exhibits some of the symptoms of alcohol poisoning, it is critical that they receive immediate medical attention. Untreated alcohol poisoning can result in asphyxiation due to the individual vomiting and not being able to expel it.
While waiting for the first responders, the individual should be kept in an upright position and attempts should be made to keep them awake. Once they are admitted into the emergency department, the individual will be carefully monitored, and breathing is assisted through a breathing tube. I.V. fluids are administered to prevent dehydration, along with glucose and vitamins. In some cases, gastric lavage is performed to remove excess alcohol from the digestive system.
Consequences of Drinking to Excess
The real risk of alcohol poisoning may result from binge drinking behavior. The toxins impact every major organ through the bloodstream, and can suppress the respiratory system, potentially resulting in death.
Binge drinking presents other serious consequences as well:
- Permanent brain damage
- Automobile accidents if attempting to drive after binge drinking
- Risky sexual behavior that may result in STDs or unplanned pregnancy
- Poor pregnancy outcomes if becoming pregnant, including fetal alcohol syndrome, miscarriage or stillbirth
- Violent behavior, sexual assault, or homicide
- Cognitive problems, memory problems, or learning difficulties
- Increased risk of infertility
- Increased risk of developing health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, liver disease, and stroke
- Increased risk of developing cancer of the breast, liver, colon, mouth, throat, and esophagus
- Increased risk of developing alcohol dependence
- Participating in binge drinking in college can negatively impact academic performance
Binge drinking is not only dangerous, but it can be a precursor to eventually developing an alcohol use disorder. If you or a loved one is participating in binge drinking, take the first step to getting some help. By addressing binge drinking early on it is possible to make the needed changes that will promote a healthy lifestyle.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.