When we hear the term “binge drinking,” most of us conjure images of young adults playing drinking games in a garage or participating in a celebratory pub crawl. While these scenes might feature young people, college-aged kids aren’t the only ones who participate in binge drinking.
Alcohol has a long record, among all age groups, of being a highly sought-after substance for numbing emotional pain. Alcohol becomes a maladaptive coping tool for self-medicating things like anxiety, depression, grief, loneliness, or even boredom.
Someone who consumes more alcohol in a two-hour period than their body can safely metabolize is at a greater risk of experiencing alcohol poisoning. Additionally, habitual binge drinking can result in an alcohol use disorder with serious long-term consequences.
What constitutes binge drinking?
Binge drinking refers to the practice of consuming large quantities of alcohol in a short time span. For women, this means consuming four or more alcoholic beverages within two hours, and for men, it entails consuming five or more alcoholic beverages. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines an alcoholic beverage as:
- One 1.5-ounce shot of 40% alcohol spirits
- One 5-ounce glass of wine
- One 12-ounce bottle of beer
Dangers of binge drinking
The most significant danger associated with binge drinking is the risk of alcohol poisoning. According to the Centers for Disease Control, six people die each day due to alcohol poisoning. When the central nervous system and liver become overwhelmed with high levels of alcohol, it can reach a state of toxicity known as alcohol poisoning.
Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:
- Loss of physical coordination
- Stupor or unconsciousness
- Confusion or disorientation
- Cold, clammy skin
- Vomiting and choking
- Low body temperature
- Shallow breathing
- Pale skin
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Blue-tinged lips or fingertips
- Seizures or convulsions
In addition to alcohol poisoning, there are other dangerous effects, both short-term and long-term, of binge drinking,
Short-term risks of binge drinking include:
- Auto accidents that result from driving under the influence
- Brain damage
Long-term binge drinking can cause serious health problems such as:
- Permanent brain damage
- Liver disease
- Legal consequences of actions while under the influence
- Heart attack or high blood pressure
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Increased risk of stroke
- Fetal alcohol syndrome in children
- Increased risk of developing alcohol dependence
- Increased risk of infertility
- Increased risk of developing cancer
What to do when someone has alcohol poisoning
If someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning, it’s considered a life-threatening medical emergency. This is due to the risk of asphyxiation, brain damage, hypothermia, hypoglycemia, and inflammation of the liver or pancreas.
While waiting for help to arrive, the individual should be kept in an upright position and attempts should be made to keep them awake. Once at the hospital, treatment will be determined based on the severity of the alcohol toxicity. This may involve intravenous hydration, glucose infusion, and in more severe cases, the patient may require a breathing tube. In some instances, gastric lavage is performed to quickly eliminate the remaining alcohol in the system.
Habitual binge drinking is considered an alcohol use disorder because this risky drinking behavior may result in various adverse consequences. To overcome an alcohol use disorder, enrolling in a medically supervised detox and withdrawal management program is the first step to freedom. Following the alcohol detox, a comprehensive treatment program based on an evidence-based approach can assist the individual in making the needed changes to sustain sobriety.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.