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Signs of Binge Drinking

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Binge drinking is one of the most common ways that alcohol is consumed in the United States. Each year, approximately 17 billion binge drinks are consumed in the United States according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). This averages out to over 450 drinks for each binge drinker annually. The scale of binge drinking in the United States is staggering, yet as common as it is many of the warning signs of binge drinking are unknown to most people. There are substantial risks associated with binge drinking. Binge drinking increases the risk of injury, violence, sexual assault, and can negatively impact the emotional state of the binge drinker. As such, it is important to understand the signs of binge drinking problem so that necessary resources and help, such as alcohol treatment rehab, can be made available to the binge drinker. Identifying the signs of binge drinking early on can help you or someone you know get needed help before problematic alcohol use progresses. Understanding what binge drinking is, what the dangers of it are, and what some common warning signs of binge drinking are can help you make an informed decision about whether to get yourself or someone you know access to the types of resources and help that can stop problematic alcohol consumption.

What is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is a massive public health problem in the United States. Understanding exactly what binge drinking is can be the first step towards identifying when an individual is binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as the consumption of enough alcohol to raise an individual’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g/dL. If this number seems familiar to you, it is because it is also the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol in many areas of the United States.  In order to reach a BAC of 0.08 g/dL, the average adult male would need to consume approximately 5 alcoholic drinks within a 2 hour period. An average-sized female would need to consume around 4 drinks to reach the same concentration of alcohol in their bloodstream. One thing to consider when assessing the definition of binge drinking is the variation between individuals for intoxication and inebriation. Not every male will reach a BAC of 0.08 g/dL after 5 drinks in 2 hours, while others will reach that BAC with fewer alcoholic drinks. With that said, broadly speaking binge drinking is the act of consuming large amounts of alcohol over a short period of time. Typically, individuals who engage in this type of drinking will feel the effects of alcohol powerfully and quickly, reaching high levels of intoxication within a short period of time.

Who is at Risk for Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking occurs at all age levels and in all demographics, but there are certain populations that binge drink at far higher rates than others. Here are some examples:

  • Men are more likely than women to binge drink.
  • Individuals at higher income levels (family income greater than $75,000 annually) are more likely to binge drink than those at lower income levels (family income of $25,000 or less annually).
  • A greater percentage of young adults binge drink. Individuals between the ages of 18 – 35 have the highest rates of binge drinking.
  • More than half of all binge drinks are consumed by individuals over the age of 35.
  • Among people who drink alcohol, around 31% report binge drinking within the past 30 days.

Young adult males tend to be the most active binge drinkers. The 2015 study from which much of this data is drawn found that over half of all male respondents between the ages of 18-24 reported binge drinking. This demographic also consumed the most binge drinks per year, averaging 621 binge drinks annually. Due to the fact that binge drinking is extremely common and widespread in the United States, it is difficult to conclusively state that one specific group of people are at a greater risk for binge drinking. One factor that contributes to this is how alcohol is consumed in the United States. The social acceptability of binge drinking makes it difficult to make broad assumptions about who is binge drinking. While a higher percentage of college-age adults binge drink, over half of all binge drinks are consumed by people older than 35.  As such, it is sometimes better to think of binge drinking as a problem that can affect someone at nearly any age rather than assuming binge drinking is a problem specifically during young adulthood.

Common Signs of Binge Drinking

Now that we have a basic understanding of what exactly binge drinking is, let’s explore some of the most common signs that someone is binge drinking. Many of these signs and symptoms are directly related to the long-term effects of excessive alcohol consumption on the body and mind of the binge drinker. Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms that you or someone you know may have a problem with binge drinking.

Prioritizing Drinking

Once drinking becomes the main focus of your nights off or nights out, it might be an indication that there is a problem. This can actually be tricky to identify early on, due in part to the fact that drinking is a central component of how many people interact socially.  What is important here is to be mindful of how drinking is impacting an individual’s ability to meet their existing obligations and responsibilities. This is also a question that is asked when assessing whether an individual is suffering from alcohol use disorder (AUD). If you or someone close to you is drinking so heavily that it is causing them to miss social functions, call out sick from work the next day, or miss family events, it can be a strong indication that their drinking has become problematic.

Embarrassing Yourself or Others

One of the hallmarks of binge drinking is drinking so much alcohol that you are inebriated past the point of recognizing social cues and norms. The average binge drinking session involves the consumption of 7 alcoholic beverages, which will cause an average person to be very intoxicated.  One effect of this intoxication is that binge drinkers often aren’t aware of how their actions in public draw attention and cause embarrassment. If you or someone you know has consumed enough alcohol to begin become louder than others around them, more boisterous, is drawing unwanted attention from others around them, or is missing obvious social cues, they may be binge drinking. Be mindful if someone you know is slurring their words or stumbling, as both are signs that an individual has drunk too much.

Blacking Out

Technically understood as the failure to encode memories, blacking out from excessive alcohol consumption is a common sign that someone is binge drinking. If you or someone you know has had numerous instances where they got drunk the night before and don’t remember portions of the evening, they have almost certainly been binge drinking.  Far from being a benign occurrence, blacking out from drinking can result in an individual placing themselves in potentially risky or dangerous situations. If you or someone you know drinks to the point where they don’t remember what they did the night before, how they got home, or who they were with, it is a very strong sign that they may be binge drinking.

Spending More Time Recovering From Drinking

Excessive consumption of alcohol is hard on the human body. As anyone who has ever had a hangover knows, drinking too much the night before can leave you with a pounding headache, dry mouth, nausea, and low energy throughout the day. One common sign of binge drinking is long recovery periods after a night out. If you or someone close to you spend the day after drinking nursing a hangover, chances are they were binge drinking the night before. Some individuals may actually be mistaking alcohol withdrawal symptoms for a normal hangover, which is also something to keep in mind. Lastly, remember that even moderately high levels of alcohol intake can result in poor sleep that leaves you groggy and tired the next day. 

Friends and Family Voice Concern

If your alcohol consumption has gotten to the point that those closest to you are voicing concern about your health or well-being, it may be time to make a realistic assessment of your drinking patterns.  Sometimes, those around us are more capable of seeing how our actions are affecting us. This is particularly true with problematic alcohol consumption, which dulls the senses and makes clear recollection of events difficult. If a friend or family member tries to talk to you about your drinking it may be a difficult conversation, yet it is important to take the time to listen to their concerns.

What are the Risks of Binge Drinking?

The most common signs of binge drinking are nearly all related to the long-term effects that alcohol can have on our lives and on our bodies. Excessive consumption of alcohol not only dulls our senses and makes us forgetful, but it can also cause you to take part in risky behavior or place yourself in risky situations. Unfortunately, because drinking is such an important component of social interactions, particularly among young adults, the dangers of binge drinking can become obscured. Here are some of the most common risks associated with binge drinking:

  • Unintentional physical injury, such as falls, cuts, burns, or car crashes.
  • Greater risk of sexual assault.
  • Violence, including relationship violence and physical altercations.
  • Failure to remember events (blacking out).
  • Missed days at work or school.
  • Driving under the influence or riding with an intoxicated driver.
  • Higher risk of certain types of cancer.

Getting Treatment for Binge Drinking

Although only about 1 in 10 binge drinkers meets the criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD), it is nonetheless dangerous and risky behavior. What many people don’t realize is that there are resources available that can help binge drinkers overcome their problematic relationship with alcohol. One thing standing in the way of connecting these resources with the people that need them is how commonplace binge drinking is. In the United States, binge drinking is so common that most people don’t even consider treatment to be an option. This is especially true among young adults, many of whom don’t meet the criteria for AUD. While it is important to understand exactly what the signs of binge drinking alcoholism are, it is equally important to understand that treatment options are available for those who need them. Many of the treatment options for binge drinking mirror those for AUD. For example, an individual struggling with binge drinking that doesn’t experience withdrawal symptoms from alcohol may find an outpatient treatment program helpful.  Facilities like Apex Recovery that specialize in treating alcohol abuse have a constellation of expertise and resources available that can help binge drinkers uncover the underlying issues that gave rise to their binge drinking in the first place. A highly effective treatment method for alcohol abuse is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a treatment modality that is used to address unhealthy patterns of thinking. By addressing these unhealthy patterns of thinking, CBT allows the individual to change their drinking behavior. CBT is one form of treatment for binge drinking, but there are many others. These include individual and group therapy sessions, family therapy sessions, counseling, and holistic activities such as yoga. While there is no singular treatment for binge drinking, there are many treatment options that, taken together, can help individuals stop their problematic consumption of alcohol.

Closing Thoughts

Binge drinking is the consumption of a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time, leading to an advanced state of inebriation. Like other forms of heavy drinking, binge drinking places the drinker into risky situations, and over time can affect their health. Many of the signs of binge drinking directly stem from the toll consuming large amounts of alcohol take on the human body. Extended recovery times the day after drinking, missed days of work or missed family obligations, unnoticed or ignored social cues and norms while intoxicated, and periods of blacking out are all common signs of binge drinking.  Thankfully, there are binge drinking treatment options available. Some of these treatment options, such as outpatient treatment programs, allow individuals to receive treatment without requiring them to live in a treatment facility for the duration of their program. Our Apex San Diego Rehab Center has on-site professionals that are specially trained to help address binge drinking. To learn more about what treatment options exist for binge drinking, please contact Apex Recovery today.


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