Binge Drinking – And How To Stop This Destructive Behaviour
What is binge drinking
Binge drinking is used to describe a certain pattern to a person’s drinking habits or behavours. To binge drink is to put excessive amounts of alcohol through our bodies, often at a ruthless rate in a short period of time.
Binge drinking is acknowledge in the US and UK as a very real and very dangerous health behaviour.
What is the definition of binge drinking
Before I considered this questions – all of those years ago now – I perceived binge drinking as getting a shedload of drinks and hammering it in one session. People who just had a ‘few’ (and few is very subjective), I didn’t personally see as binge drinking. Even if I had 8 strong beers, as long as I did not black out, then I did not view that as bingeing. It turns out that even the term ‘ to binge’ is subjective.
Let’s look at some definitions of what binge drinking is.
The centre for disease control and prevention cite binge drinking as –
pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g/dl or above.
On order to get to these levels of alcohol concentration in your blood, a man would have to consume around 5 or more drinks in 2 hours, and a woman drink for in the same amount of time.
Now, this is quite a fast pace of drink, granted.
But I can personally remember many, many occasions where I have consumed drinks at this pace, and countless times where I have also witnessed others drinking to this speed.
In the UK, the NHS give this example as a definition of binge drinking –
In the UK, binge drinking is drinking more than:
8 units of alcohol in a single session for men
6 units of alcohol in a single session for women
Australian health direct Government website gives this definition of binge drinking
Binge drinking is when you drink a lot of alcohol in one session, or continuously over a number of days or weeks.
There is some variants here when discussing a specific definition of binge drinking, but the common theme is that binge drinking can be defined as drinking large amounts of alcohol in quick succcession.
One thing that often surprises, is the term ‘large amounts’. Now, as a person who has drank to excess for over 2 decades, I often found myself ‘normalising’ high levels of alcohol, and passing off binge drinking as relatively common occurance. After all, it is something that I did regularly and it was absolutely not uncommon to witness others drinking to what would be deemed as binge drinking.
But, when we look at the government’s guidelines on what binge drinking actually is, it can hit home just how normalised it is.
An example of this level of drinking could be
- 6 units is 2 pints of 5% strength beer or 2 large (250ml) glasses of 12% wine
- 8 units is 5 bottles (330ml) of 5% strength beer or 5 small (125ml) glasses of 13% wine
Using this example here…..as you are reading this, can you remember the last time that you have seen someone drinking more than 2 drinks that were 5%? I can only speak as a British man, but I would say that drinking more than 2 pints of 5% lager in one sitting is very much commonplace in pubs up and down our great country. Very common. So…these people are all ‘binge drinking’? It seems so.
The weekly recommended drinking levels is 14 units per week for both men and women, as advised by UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs). I often hear people use a similar quote and tell me that they are ‘saving their units’, with the idea that they can still drink safely if they stick to these recommended guidelines for ‘safe drinking’ (whatever that is, but that is a subject for another day).
These comments are often done in a tongue-in-cheek way, but the truth is that guidelines are given and followed. And it is open to interpretation. So, 14 units is seen as ‘safe’ by the government…and I have only drunk 28 units in a fortnight if I save them up for a weekend? OK, then this risky behaviour does not apply to me, right? Wrong!
Your body does not know about these guidelines. Your body still has to deal with all of this alcohol in your system regardless of what guidelines we are set. Let’s take a further look at binge drinking.
How does binge drinking differ from heavy drinking?
In order to establish the difference between binge drinking and heavy drinking, we now need to define exactly what ‘heavy drinking’ is.
CDC define heavy drinking as
For men, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 15 drinks or more per week. For women, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 8 drinks or more per week.
Heavy drinking can be seen as regular binge drinking. I think that most people who drink alcohol have binged at some point in their lives. We have all drank more than the recommended alcohol intake in one sitting. When we actually look at the guidelines for recommended drinking in one drinking session, it can be quite easy to go over that amount.
When our society discusses alcohol abuse, addiction, alcoholism or whatever variant of this that is ‘acceptable, we tend to make a distinction between an bingeing and abuse.
The main differences are the length of time. To binge on a ‘few’ occasions – whatever a few means, is not viewed as a real problem and therefore not alcohol abuse. Strange when the sole action in a binge is to actually abuse alcohol, but still….
The other difference is the level of perceived control.
If a person has a binge, but can stop it when they choose to, then it is not deemed as heavy drinking and not deemed as a problem. Someone who is a ‘heavy drinker’, and someone who is drinking heavy or on a binge can often be worlds apart in the eyes of the public.
As I write these words, I often scratch my head at our whole perception of alcohol. Both the users and the drug that is alcohol. But this is the world that we live in.
What causes binge drinking
We now know what binge drinking is, but why do people choose to binge drink? What actually causes binge drinking?
People can decide to binge drink for different reasons. These could be:-
- People can decide to binge drink for different reasons. These could be
- Social pressure
- Reduce anxiety in social settings
- To try and have fun
- Slipping into a binge without realising it
- Adopting the behaviour of those around us
- A feeling of compulsion due to availability
The reasons for binge drinking really is down to the person and the situation, and the variants are many really. The common denominators that hold binge drinking together are the risks and consequences associated with binge drinking. These, sadly, are where similarities come together.
Is binge drinking once a week bad for me?
Binge drinking, even for one night a week, is dangerous to your health. The risks are there whenever you throw alcohol through your system, and doing it in excessive volume…well it increases the risk of damage. As per any amoount of excessive alcohol, binge drinking has associated risks such as vomiting, liver damage, seizures annd blood pressure problems, to name a few.
Other risks related to binge drinking once per week can include
- Risk of injuries due to accidents, falling over, burns – and the more obvious alcohol poisoning
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Unplanned pregnancy
- Increased risk of miscarriage and stillbirth
- Memory problems
- Cancer of the mouth, throat liver, breast, colon
- Physical violence
These are all risks associated with binge drinking, and these risks are not omitted simply because a person binge drinks for one night a week.
How do you stop binge drinking?
#Switch up your drinking game
If you are concerned about your binge drinking habits, think about when you are actually binge drinking. Who you are with, where you go and what you are doing when you are drinking to excess. If you are in a habit of drinking hard and lots, trying to stop binge drinking may well be very hard if you are keeping to the same places and people. It might be a good idea to think of some new places and pastimes, or even just get yourself away from those same places now and again.
#Set yourself drinking limits.
If you know that you are drinking too much and it is starting to concern you, make a conscious decision on the amount you are going to drink and stop at that point. This could include only buying enough alcohol for the night, or taking a limited amount of money with you to purchase alcohol. Yes, there is always the danger of others buying you drinks but this method will certainly slow down your ability to carry on drinking.
Another tried and tested method is learning to pace yourself. Pacing your drinks helps with having the having limits in place approach.
Smaller sips can be a great tactic to help you drink less throughout the night. Often, when we drink, the actual size of the gulps we take is not something we pay attention to. A small adjustment and conscious awareness can make all the difference in terms of amount consumed.
Using smaller glasses when pouring your drink gives the psychological effect of enjoyment without the need to pour larger drinks(this really does work!).
For the uninitiated – spacer drinks are where a person has a non-alcoholic drink, maybe water, juice or whatever, between the next.
#Make sure to eat before drinking
Fill up on a hearty meal and reduce the space in your stomach to throw all of that alcohol. Also, eating during a drinking session can have the same effect. Ever heard the phrase ‘have something to eat to soak up all that alcohol? There is lots of truth in that method!
#Make a decision – do you need to cut down or stop drinking altogether?
Many people come to a decision that they drink or that they do not drink. All or nothing. This was the way for me, and it is the way for countless people that I have spoken with over the years.
If you have tried to moderate before without success or feel that cutting down is not an option then maybe it would be better to put your effort into kicking the booze altogether.
It is often said that quitting drinking is hard, but moderation is ten-fold more difficult.
The bottom line, the takeaway that I would like you to…erm…take away (!!) is that binge drinking is a dangerous pastime, and one that should be omitted from your life.
For your own health’s sake!