When people think of alcohol use disorder, they often picture a person drinking heavily and steadily, every day of the week. The truth is, there are a number of drinking patterns that can cause problems. Among the best known and socially accepted of these is binge drinking, defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as 4-5 drinks or more in a two hour period. While isolated instances of binging may not raise an alarm, in the bigger picture binge drinking is the root of a number of major issues, both social and personal. If it becomes a regular pattern, binging can have a serious impact on a person’s health and relationships.
How Common is Binge Drinking?
Binge drinking is a widespread pattern in the United States. 1 in 6 adults binge roughly once a week, and 26.9 percent report binge drinking within the last month. In contrast, only 6.2 percent of American adults qualify as having alcohol use disorder by the standards of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. This means there are many people falling into a grey area, who are still drinking a large amount. In fact, binge drinking is so common that it may account for as many as 50 percent of the drinks served in the U.S. And while it may not always be considered alcohol use disorder, binging does plenty of damage of its own.
The Impact of Binge Drinking
As we discussed in a recent article on alcohol in the workplace, alcohol misuse costs the United States nearly a quarter trillion dollars a year. What may be shocking is that as much as 77 percent of this is due to binge drinking. This includes car accidents, law enforcement costs, healthcare, and lost workplace productivity. The last of these is the biggest category by far, with one study finding binge drinkers to be 3.81 times more likely to show impaired job performance than their colleagues. This is largely due to morning-after symptoms like hangovers and reduced concentration. Binge drinking is also correlated with violent behavior, sexual assault, the spread of sexually transmitted infections, and destruction of property. At its most extreme, binging can even result in alcohol poisoning. In fact, more than half the alcohol-related deaths in the U.S. each year are due to binge drinking.
Binge Drinking and Personal Health
It isn’t just society as a whole suffering the consequences of excessive alcohol use. Nausea, blackouts, hangovers, and poor decision making are only the beginning of what binging does to an individual. Even a single heavy drinking session can cause inflammation of the internal organs. Binge drinking can result in high blood pressure, low blood sugar, dehydration, and increase the likelihood of unprotected sex. All of these challenge your body’s overall health and can lead to disease, infection, or even unplanned pregnancy.
Over the long term, heavy alcohol use is linked to increased cancer risk, liver disease, depression & anxiety, as well as a range of other illnesses of the internal organs. It can also affect a person’s job performance and employment if it becomes chronic. And although this depends on how much you drink, over what period of time, there is a connection between occasional binge drinking and the development of alcohol addiction. Many cases of alcohol use disorder begin with binge drinking habits in college and high school. With 37.9 percent of 18-22 year olds in college having binge drank in the last month, there is reason to be concerned.
Is it Alcohol Use Disorder?
Whether or not the amount you drink is a problem is a question for you, your family, your friends, and your doctor to answer. It’s important to realize, however, that a behavior doesn’t have to officially qualify as alcohol addiction to have negative impacts. A recent study estimated that 90% of excessive drinkers were not alcohol dependent. That doesn’t mean their drinking didn’t contribute to the problems discussed above, or affect their families, jobs, and relationships. If you are noticing negative consequences to your drinking patterns, regardless of labels, it is best to find a way to cut back.
What can be difficult is that many types of alcohol treatment seem to have a high threshold. Alcoholics Anonymous requires members to identify as alcoholics and adopt the 12 step program. Rehabilitation facilities require huge commitments of time and money. As a result, many people don’t get help for negative drinking behaviors until they seem severe enough to warrant major steps.
With the arrival of telemedicine, this is changing. It is now possible to meet with a doctor or an addiction coach from the comfort of home. Not only does this make treatment more convenient, it also reduces stigma, making it less of a big deal. If you’d like to cut down on how much you drink, or even stop altogether, Ria Health’s convenient smartphone app can make it simpler. Prescription medications like naltrexone can help you reduce your desire to drink over time, and digital tools can help you track your progress. Learn more about Ria’s program, or get started today. Make binge drinking a thing of the past, and get on your way to a healthier self.