Many people believe that the term “binge drinking” refers to the consumption of mass quantities of alcohol in a short period of time. However, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the more specific definition is the point at which one’s blood alcohol content reaches .08 within a two-hour time window. This is equivalent to approximately five drinks for men and four drinks for women within two hours.
While it’s important to understand that there is a difference between binge drinking and alcoholism, a habit of binge drinking can drastically increase one’s risk for developing an alcohol use disorder. In either case, excessive alcohol consumption over long periods of time can cause significant damage to the body, including alcohol poisoning, stroke, heart attack, liver disease, and neurological damage.
Quitting or reducing alcohol consumption can be more difficult for some than it is for others. While some people may drink only socially, others will become dependent on alcohol as a means of coping with struggles in their life.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an alcohol use disorder, the safest and most effective approach to sobriety is to first seek clinical treatment. But for some, this may not always be possible or may not yet be necessary. If you are in a position to safely attempt to eliminate or reduce your alcohol consumption, here are a few approaches you can take that may help you reach your goals.
1. Enlist Support. The first step to take when you’ve acknowledged that you’ve been drinking too much is to find a trustworthy support network who can hold you accountable to your goals. This support system can include friends, family members, or even a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous. If you keep your struggle to yourself, it’s easy to internally justify and rationalize your continued alcohol use, so knowing that you may disappoint someone else can be a deterrent from drinking.
2. Change Your Environment. This can often pair hand-in-hand with your enlisted group of supporters. If you are comfortable confiding in friends, they may be open to alternate recreational activities in an environment less exposed to alcohol. If your particular group of friends are not receptive to this idea then you may need to kindly decline future invitations to socialize in trigger-rich environments. Take some time to think through who, when, and where you’re most likely to consume alcohol, and find alternatives to keep you occupied in your free time.
3. Set Limits. One goal may simply be to reduce the level of alcohol you consume. Think about how much you drink regularly or try to identify the specific types of alcohol that you binge on and then set yourself manageable goals to reduce your intake. Remember to be realistic in your goal-setting and don’t push yourself too hard right out of the gate. For example, without clinical supervision, it may be unsafe for a long-term alcoholic to wake up one day and decide to abstain completely from alcohol consumption. A more realistic goal may be for that person to limit themselves to three or four drinks each day, and schedule when they are going to drink. Over time, measure your success and set new goals, gradually reducing your levels of consumption.
4. Get Help. Sometimes, alcohol dependency can reach a point where attempts at self-treatment are simply impractical and ineffective. As mentioned above, long-term alcoholics are likely to experience potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms as a result of abrupt abstinence. Symptoms of withdrawal may include seizures, hallucinations, or death as a result of delirium tremens.
Clinical treatment facilities offer comprehensive and individualized recovery programs, which include medically supervised detoxification, individual and group therapy, and medications to help manage unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. As part of your treatment program, you’ll learn healthier coping mechanisms, understand the root cause of your dependency struggles, and learn practical life skills that will increase your likelihood of sobriety once treatment is complete.
If you’ve recently acknowledged that alcohol consumption has become a part of who you are, don’t wait to take action. The effects of excessive alcohol consumption—even when used only socially—may cause permanent damage or impairment to your brain and body, and can even result in death. Start your journey now because tomorrow may be too late.