Drinking alcohol in moderation is not always harmful and can even have some benefits. As well as the social aspects of having a drink with friends, family and members of the community, moderate drinking may be good for the heart and circulatory system, and there is some evidence that it can provide some protection against type 2 diabetes and gallstones. Set against this, the effects of alcohol addiction, prolonged heavy drinking and binge drinking can all be very harmful – both for the individual doing the drinking, the people around them and society as a whole.
What Is Binge Drinking?
The exact definition of what constitutes ‘moderate drinking’ varies from one study to the next, with some classifying it as no more than one alcoholic beverage per day. Similarly, it can be difficult to pin down exactly what is meant by ‘binge drinking’. The dictionary definition of bingeing is to indulge in an activity, especially eating, drinking, or taking drugs, to excess. The difficulty is in determining the levels of drinking considered to be excessive.
The low risk drinking guidelines issued by the Chief Medical Officer of the UK recommend that men and women limit the amounts of alcohol they consume over the course of a week to no more than 14 units. It doesn’t necessarily mean you will need to go to alcohol rehab if you drink more than this but it is a fact that heavier consumption increases the risk of harm. If you do drink alcohol, it is recommended that you spread consumption throughout the week.
If you do choose to drink, it is best to spread your drinks evenly throughout the week rather than consuming lots of alcohol in a short space of time. The NHS says that binge drinking in the UK is considered to be drinking more than 8 units in a single session for men, and 6 units for women.
Some examples given are that 6 units equal 2 large (250ml) glasses of wine and 8 units equal 5 330ml bottles of 5% beer.
Tolerance of alcohol can vary between different people, however. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) in the United States more precisely defines binge drinking as drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08%. Again, the amounts of alcohol involved to achieve this can vary depending on the person and other factors, but the NIAAA says it generally corresponds to having 4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more drinks for men in around 2 hours.
How Common Is Binge Drinking?
Drinking to excess is, unfortunately, very common. According to leading charity Alcohol Change UK, just under a quarter (24%) of adults in England and Scotland regularly drink more than the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendations. A similar proportion (27%) in the UK admit to binge drinking on their heaviest days, using the NHS definition of more than 8 units for men and 6 units for women in a single episode of binge drinking. As these figures are self-reported, the real figures could potentially be even higher.
Binge Drinking Health Effects
Regular drinking and binge drinking can have a wide range of short and long-term effects. Alcohol is the single most significant risk factor for death, ill-health and disability among 15-49 year-olds in the UK, and the fifth-biggest risk factor across all ages.
Many of these health problems and risks are related to chronic or long-term drinking. Prolonged alcohol misuse can increase the risk of certain forms of cancer, for example, or lead to a dependency that requires detoxification with attendant withdrawal symptoms.
The effects of binge drinking can be more immediate and could in the worst cases include hospitalisation or even death due to alcohol poisoning. Binge drinking could also lead to nausea and sickness, increase your risk of accident and injury, as well as poor decision making and risky behaviour such as unprotected sex or criminal behaviour.
Binge Drinking Among Teens
It can be difficult to get reliable figures on binge drinking and underage alcohol consumption in general amongst teenagers and young adults. A recent survey suggested that 44% of schoolchildren in England aged 11-15 had tried alcohol, with one in ten saying they had drunk within the last week. Of these, a fifth (21%) reported drinking 15 units or more. Additionally, 43% of pupils who had drunk alcohol within the previous four weeks said that they had been drunk at least once during that time.
The sort of addiction that could lead to the need for rehabilitation treatment is rarer amongst teenagers than adults. It is certainly not unheard of, but frequent binge drinking can also lead to dependent drinking further down the line and can lead to some of the health problems and other issues highlighted above.
How To Reduce Alcohol Consumption
There are a number of ways to reduce your alcohol consumption, even if you don’t want to stop drinking altogether. You can try setting limits on how much you will drink before starting or set a budget on how much you will spend. Go for smaller or less alcoholic drinks, like ordering a small glass of wine rather than a large one or choosing a lower strength beer. If you think you have a problem or are in danger of developing one, you might want to avoid situations where people around you are likely to be drinking heavily. This might mean making some changes to your social circle and lifestyle.
If you are regularly drinking to excess or drinking all the time, you might have a problem that requires professional help. Serious addiction problems are best dealt with in a residential addiction treatment centre, where you can undergo a supervised alcohol detox and deal with the root causes of your addiction. Our therapies provide the very best chance of making a full and long-lasting recovery if your drinking has spiralled out of control and resulted in a full-blown addiction.