Medically Reviewed by Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.
Most Americans are familiar with the idea of “binge drinking” even if they aren’t familiar with the term. If you’ve spent any time on a college campus, at the high school prom, or even seen the movie “Animal House,” you know what’s involved with binge drinking. You may not, however, know the true impact binge drinking has on your body, both in the short and long term.
While binge drinking doesn’t necessarily mean the drinker has a problem with alcohol, binge drinking does put the individual at a higher risk for addiction and future health problems related to excessive drinking. This is especially true for adolescents. The younger the age of the binge drinker, the worse the potential health consequences.
Binge drinking is not a rite of passage and should be taken seriously, especially when minors are involved.
The National Institute of Health’s National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking where an individual drinks 4-5 drinks within a time frame of about two hours, bringing the drinker’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.09 grams percent or above.
For men, this generally means five or more drinks within an approximately two-hour period and four or more drinks for women.
Drinking in this pattern consistently while meeting other medical criteria for an alcohol use disorder puts a person at a higher risk of developing a damaging pattern of drinking. The health consequences are sobering.
Here are a few of the consequences of chronic binge drinking.
Short Term Consequences of Binge Drinking
- Accidental death: Excessive alcohol use is a factor in more than half of all alcohol-related deaths in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Alcohol poisoning as reported on many college campuses is another consequence of binge drinking. The CDC offers enlightening statistics on the national impact of excessive drinking on their website.
Because of the impact that alcohol has on an individual’s cognitive skills and coordination, it’s only common sense that drinking excessively in a short amount of time puts the drinker at a higher risk of accidental death. Since alcohol acts as a depressant, it may also raise the risk of suicide in an already depressed person.
- Indirect consequences: Missing school or work because of a terrible hangover the day after binge drinking is a common short-term consequence. Plus, individuals who drink until they lose consciousness may face an increased risk of sexual assault.
Long Term Consequences of Binge Drinking
The human body reacts to alcohol as a poison. When drinking alcohol, your body will work extra hard to detoxify, putting your vital organs at risk. Read more information about alcohol’s impact as it travels through the body in this informative article from Northwestern Medicine.
Here are just a few of the many physical consequences of long term binge drinking:
- Liver damage: Your liver’s job is to clear the body of toxins. If you ingest a large quantity of alcohol in a short amount of time, the liver is overwhelmed and can’t do its job. Your liver may become inflamed. Over time, the liver can also lose cells, leading to a condition known as cirrhosis. Liver disease is a common consequence of frequent episodes of heavy drinking.
- Heart issues: Binge drinking makes it harder for your heart to pump blood. This is especially true if someone drinks heavily on a regular basis. Nonetheless, it’s possible to suffer heart failure after just a single episode of binge drinking. Binge drinking may also raise the drinker’s blood pressure and can increase the chance of stroke.
- Cancer and related risks: Many types of cancer may result from chronic binge drinking, including cancer of the liver, colon, throat cancer, and breast. Anemia and a compromised immune system are often found in chronic binge drinkers, as well.
Despite the consequences, binge drinking, especially among adolescents and young adults, tends to be portrayed as acceptable in popular media. The earlier the binge drinker’s age, however, the increased chances the drinker will develop an alcohol use disorder later in life.
NIAAA recommends adult women drink no more than seven drinks per week, never ingesting more than three per day. For men, the recommendation is 14 drinks per week with no more than four drinks per day.
If you have a habit of binge drinking, stop and take an honest look at any consequences you may experience. Getting honest with a medical or addiction recovery professional is critical to putting a stop to excessive drinking.
Binge drinking isn’t the innocent fun portrayed in coming-of-age movies, there can be serious implications. Be smart, educate yourself and know your limits.