Official recommendations suggest that men and women should both reduce their risk from alcohol by not drinking more than 14 units per week on a regular basis. If you do drink alcohol, it’s best to spread your drinking evenly over a week. The question now becomes what the safe limits are for binge drinking, also known as single session drinking.
What Is Binge Drinking?
The National Health Service’s definition of binge drinking describes it as drinking a big amount of alcohol in a short period, or drinking with the intention of getting drunk.
As every person is different and they will react to alcohol differently, it becomes extremely difficult to determine how many units consumed in one session would constitute binge drinking.
The Office of National Statistics defines binge drinking as having more than 8 units in one session for men and more than 6 units for women.
As people drink at different speeds and also drink over different periods, this definition is not exact and does not apply to everyone.
We can however safely state that the risk of immediate problems like injuries or accidents increases between two and five times when between five and seven units have been consumed. This is approximately equivalent to 2 to 3 pints of beer.
The type of things that are more likely to happen when a person drinks too much or too fast on a single occasion includes misjudging dangerous situations, accidents leading to injury and losing self-control.
Government Advice On Binge Drinking
If you want to drink alcohol, it’s best to spread your drinking evenly through the week. If your aim is to reduce the amount of alcohol you’re consuming, this can easily be achieved by having a number of days per week that are drink-free.
The UK’s government recommends various other ways to reduce the risk from alcohol, including:
- Drink slower and alternate alcohol with water and food
- Reduce the amount of alcohol consumed on a single occasion.
- Shun risky activities and places, always make sure that you’re with people you trust and always know how you will get home safely.
Short term dangers of binge drinking include misjudging dangerous situations, accidents leading to injury or even death and losing self-control.
Why Is Binge Drinking Dangerous?
Your body is only able to process one unit of alcohol every hour.
Although two glasses of wine doesn’t seem like much, consuming six units of alcohol over a short period (e.g. an hour), will increase the blood alcohol concentration (BAC), making you drunk extremely fast.
Drinking the same number of units spread out over a number of hours, and eating while drinking, will have a lesser effect on your BAC.
Binge Drinking Effects
Consuming too much alcohol may affect your mental and physical health:
- Binge drinking may affect your memory and mood and could lead to serious mental health issues in the long term.
- Falls and other accidents commonly occur when a person is drunk, as alcohol affects their co-ordination and balance. In extreme cases, being drunk could even lead to death. Overdosing on alcohol could result in your heart or breathing stopping, or choking on your own vomit.
It is also common that binge drinking leads to aggressive, anti-social and even violent behavior.
Are You A Binge Drinker?
Although you might not consume alcohol daily, you may be a binge drinker when you:
- Are inclined to drink fast
- In a single session, often drink more than the alcohol unit guidelines described above
- Sometimes drink simply to get drunk
If it is difficult for you to stop drinking once you’ve started, you might have a binge drinking problem or alcohol dependence.
6 Signs That You’re a Binge Drinker
A shocking 1 out of 6 Americans consume too much alcohol, and the statistics are even more alarming for college students.
Research done at the University of Alabama in Birmingham showed these figures behind binge drinking, a favorite college pastime.
The researchers found:
- An estimated 1,825 college students aged between 18 and 24 die each year from injuries related to alcohol like car accidents.
- Approximately 20% of college students suffer from an alcohol use disorder.
- 25% of college students indicate that they’ve experienced negative academic results from drinking including flunking papers or exams, missing class or getting lower grades overall.
Binge drinking is however not limited to young adults. According to a report by the CDC, an ever increasing number of Americans move into the drinking danger zone. The report reveals that more than 38 million adults binge drink on average four times per month. The report also shows that people who earn more than $75,000 per year are more likely to binge drink.
For men, having more than four drinks over a period of two hours is considered as binge drinking.
Gregory Smith, M.D., and a prescription addiction specialist at the Comprehensive Pain Relief Group in L.A, notes that binge drinking is often not recognized as a problem because it does not happen daily. People believe that if they’re able to function at home and work, and don’t need to drink every day, they’re fine. They then however drink one or two bottles of wine during the weekend.
Binge drinking is worrying. More than 80,000 deaths per year are caused by overindulgence in alcohol. This makes it the third leading cause of deaths that could be prevented. Take a look at these signs that you may be drinking too much and find out how you can minimize the risk.
1. Taking risks
If you’ve ever seen a co-worker that is normally reserved take off his shirt or tell the boss where to get off after having too many drinks at the company party, you’ve witnessed first-hand how drinking lowers inhibitions. Drinking too much could result in you acting out of character in ways that are much worse than embarrassing episodes like having unprotected sex, or getting behind the wheel of a vehicle.
Smith explains that a person who does everything right, could drink too much on a single occasion and that could change his life for the worse. The biggest risk when drinking too much is making the wrong decision. This could increase the risk of being fined for DUI, getting an STD, or being involved in a fight or violent situations.
Getting drunk will also make you more susceptible to all types of serious accidents. Based on statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol is the cause of approximately 60% of drownings and fatal burn injuries, as well as 40% of fatal vehicle accidents and falls. It also features in 50% of all sexual assaults.
2. The weekend warrior
Smith also warns that if people don’t drink every day, but drink on regular occasions such as every Friday night, it’s a huge red flag. Although research done at Harvard indicates that drinking about seven alcoholic beverages a week decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, refraining from drinking all week only to consume seven pints on Friday night, eliminates any potential health benefits of alcohol.
Binge drinking also increases the risk of cancer, elevates blood pressure and restricts the effects of some medication. A person that has to vomit repeatedly could also cause esophageal bleeding.
3. No limits
People that tell themselves that they’ll only have one or two drinks, and then down six beers and develop a serious buzz before they know it, could have a problem with binge drinking. Deidre Roach, M.D., of the NIAAA notes that when a person has trouble sticking to the limits they imposed on themselves, it indicates that there is a problem.
Drinking often gets out of control gradually, just like heart disease, diabetes and other health problems do. That is why it is a good idea to evaluate your drinking habits regularly. Write down when you drink and how much. This will help you to reduce your drinking if you notice things getting out of control. Putting reminders of the limits you want impose on yourself in places where you’ll see them a few times per day will also help you remember your intentions and make it easier to stick to them.
4. Black outs
Everyone reacts to alcohol differently as its effects depends on many factors such as your genes (if one of your parents had an alcohol problem, you’re 4 times more likely to have the same), any medication you’re on, and when last you ate (food reduces the absorption speed of alcohol into your bloodstream). Researchers believe that heavy drinking impedes memory by interfering with glutamate, a critical brain messenger that is associated with recall. If you have ever been in a situation where you can’t remember half of the previous night until your friends remind you, or woke up in a strange place, not really sure how you got there, there is no doubt that you’ve had one too many.
5. The slacker
Keith Humphreys, Ph.D., of the Center for Health Care Evaluation in Menlo Park, CA explains that you’ll know that your drinking is problematic when you realize that you’re neglecting things that are of importance for the sake of alcohol. You might normally be a dedicated employee, but you don’t prepare for the next meeting because you have a hungover. You might suddenly start ignoring your fitness goals and skip the next exercise session and rather go drinking.
6. People worry about you
Humphreys also notes that if you’re scared of asking people if they think you drink too much, it’s probably an indication that you have a problem. You may not even really know how much you drink until it starts interfering with your relationships, both at work and at home. If your friends, family, or colleagues have indicated in any way that they worry about how much you drink, it’s time to reduce your drinking drastically.
Read on if you want to reduce your risk.
Research published in Lancet indicates that alcohol is seen as the most harmful of all substances that are abused, including cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines.
Peter Hendricks is the lead researcher of a study conducted at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. His recommendations to reduce the harm done by excessive alcohol use are as follows:
- Before drinking, eat a full meal.
- Between alcoholic beverages, drink a full glass of water.
- Never mix alcohol and other drugs as this could increase toxicity. When alcohol is mixed with Xanax, for example, it could cause death.
- Avoid chugging and taking shots, but rather sip your drink slowly.
- Use a buddy system and don’t ever leave your friends behind.
- Make sure you get home safely by using public transport, taxis, or designate a driver from your group.
- An individual that is intoxicated can’t consent to sexual interaction. In most states, any sexual contact with a drunk person is classified as rape.
- Never let your drink out of your sight.