Health Watch: Binge Drinking – Short and Long Term Consequences

Updated 4 years ago

By- Dr. David PrescottBinge Drinking and Alcoholism: Most of us are well aware of the risks associated with excessive alcohol use. Over 14 million people abuse alcohol at any given point in time. More than 20,000 people die each year directly from alcohol related health problems, while many more are killed or injured in accidents where alcohol use is a contributing factor.It can be tempting to think of people with alcohol problems as primarily people who drink every day, develop dependence on alcohol, and begin to organize their lives around drinking. However, recent research suggests that binge drinking may be as much of a problem as chronic alcoholism. What is Binge Drinking? Binge drinking is defined as heavy drinking within a limited period of time: 5 or more drinks for males, 4 or more drinks for females. Obviously, drinking this much puts a person over the legal limit of blood alcohol content for intoxication. It well known that alcohol intoxication puts people at high risk for motor vehicle and other accidents that lead to death and serious injury. But, the risks of binge drinking are not limited to accidents. Short Term Problems with Binge Drinking: Short term problems with binge drinking include: • Risk of alcohol poisoning: For some people, binge drinking leads to alcohol poisoning and may cause death. • Impaired Ability to Drive: Recent research suggests that the majority of motor vehicle accidents that involve alcohol are caused by people who binge drink, rather than people who are alcohol dependent (“chronic alcoholics”).• Impaired ability to make good judgments: Not only does binge drinking impair your ability to drive, or do any complex activity, but your own judgment of how well you can perform is impaired when you binge drink. • Pressure to Binge Drink related to Events or Milestones: More and more research suggests that major events, like 21st birthdays, are increasingly associated with expectations that binge drinking will occur. Long Term Problems with Binge Drinking: • Binge Drinking Beginning at Younger Ages: One of the most startling statistics about binge drinking concerns the early ages at which binge drinking first occurs. One in ten sixth graders report at least one episode of binge drinking. One in three high school seniors have consumed 4 or more drinks at one time in the past month. These statistics highlight that problem drinking begins well before the legal age to purchase alcohol. • Increased Risk for Problems In Adulthood: Research suggests that people who binge drink as teenagers are 60% more likely to develop alcohol dependence, 70% more likely to drink heavily as adults, and are twice as likely to have a criminal record. Getting Help for Alcohol Problems: People for whom alcohol has become a significant problem often downplay the role of alcohol in their life. Denial is often viewed as a defining characteristic of alcohol addiction. So, if you try to point out to someone that they have an alcohol problem it is likely that they will disagree with you. Nevertheless, overcoming an alcohol addiction is usually very difficult to manage without help. Some simple tips for getting help include: • Keep in mind the risks associated with binge drinking and alcohol dependence. These include accidents which occur after drinking, short and long term health problems, and difficulties at school or work. • Talk with a mental health professional. A psychologist, social worker, or licensed professional counselor can help look at whether or not alcohol use is a problem in your life, and can help you understand better the factors that contribute to alcohol abuse. • Talk with a doctor or primary care physician. For some people, talking to your family doctor is more comfortable than seeking help from a counselor. Most primary care doctors have basic training in evaluating alcohol related problems, and can help you decide if you need further help. • Alcohol Addiction may be masking other problems. People who abuse alcohol may be trying to cope with an underlying psychiatric problem like depression or an anxiety disorder. Or, getting drunk may be a short term way to cope with family problems or a troubled relationship. Usually however, using alcohol makes it more difficult to sort out the original problem. Talking with a mental health professional can help you find some other ways to cope. Want More Information? American Psychological Association Help Center: www.apahelpcenter.orgSubstance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – Center for Substance Abuse Treatment: