Binge Drinking Alcohol: Effects, Dangers, & Treatment

Between 2015 and 2019, a yearly average of approximately 140,000 deaths resulted from alcohol misuse in the United States. Of these, almost half were associated with binge drinking.1

According to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), about 60 million, or 21.5%, of people in the United States ages 12 and older reported binge drinking during the past month.1

This page covers what binge drinking is, the effects and dangers of binge drinking, and how to find treatment for problematic alcohol use.

What Is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking, as defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), is a pattern of drinking alcohol to the point of reaching a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more.1 This typically results when:1

  • A man consumes 5 or more drinks during a 2-hour period.
  • A woman drinks 4 or more drinks during a 2-hour period.

Is Binge Drinking Dangerous?

Yes, binge drinking can be dangerous as it can increase a person’s risk of harmful behaviors and adverse outcomes.1 A BAC of 0.08% results in impaired motor coordination and cognitive functioning.2 Binge drinking is associated with an increased likelihood of:

  • Blackouts.1
  • Unsafe sexual behavior, which increases the risk of STIs and unintentional pregnancy.1
  • Alcohol-related physical and sexual assault.2
  • Alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal.1,2
  • Accidents such as drownings, car accidents, falls, and burns which also may be fatal.1
  • Impairment of the course of brain development (during teen or young adult years).1

Effects of Chronic Binge Drinking Alcohol

The health effects of drinking any amount of alcohol are numerous, with alcohol affecting nearly all tissues in the body.1,2 Chronic binge drinking associated health effects can include:

  • Compromised function of the immune system (even after only one episode of binge drinking alcohol).1
  • Chronic diseases including liver disease.1
  • Increased risk of cancers, including esophageal, head and neck, breast, liver, and colorectal cancers.1
  • Inflammation of the pancreas (in those with underlying pancreatic damage).1
  • High blood pressure.3
  • Heart disease.3
  • Stroke.3
  • Heart attack.4

Binge drinking can also increase someone’s vulnerability to developing alcohol use disorder.3,4

How Does Binge Drinking Affect Young Adults?

Young adults ages 18 to 25 have unique risks associated with binge drinking. These include:

  • Persistent problems with cognitive functions including social, attention, and memory deficits.1
  • A potentially higher risk for certain alcohol-related harms, such as alcohol poisoning, due to having less experience with alcohol in comparison to older adults.2

According to the 2022 Monitoring the Future survey, 2.2% of 8th graders, 5.9% of 10th graders, and 12.6% of 12th graders reported engaging in binge drinking in the past 2 weeks.1 Though adolescents may drink less frequently than adults, they tend to drink more alcohol per occasion which can lead to binge drinking risks.2

Roughly 27.4% of college students aged 18 to 22 reported binge drinking during the past month according to the 2021 National Survey of Drug Use and Health.1

College students have also reported a greater willingness to endure the adverse effects of alcohol to experience the perceived positive benefits of drinking excessively.2

Is Binge Drinking a Type of Alcohol Use Disorder?

No, engaging in binge drinking does not necessarily mean a person has an alcohol use disorder but it is a form of alcohol misuse, as is heavy or excessive alcohol use.3,5

It is, however, quite common for those who drink excessively to binge drink. In fact, of the adults in the US who drink excessively, over 90% report binge drinking.3 Binge drinking and excessive drinking over time increases the risk of alcohol use disorder.5

Some signs of alcohol use disorder include:6

  • Craving alcohol.
  • Continued alcohol use despite it resulting in the inability to fulfill obligations at work, home, or school.
  • Giving up or reducing important social, occupational, and recreational activities due to alcohol use.
  • Recurrent alcohol use in situations that are physically dangerous (such as driving.)

Symptoms and Signs of a Binge Drinking Problem

Binge drinking on any occasion can be problematic as this pattern of excessive alcohol use can impact the way the brain functions and can impair someone’s thinking, reasoning, and muscle coordination.1,7

When a person engages in the pattern of binge drinking, some of the signs and symptoms they have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or above include:7

  • Poor muscle coordination, which affects balance, speech, reaction time, vision, and hearing.
  • Impaired judgment and self-control.
  • Difficulty detecting danger.
  • Problems with attention and memory.
  • Impaired driving skills.

Can You Build a Tolerance From Binge Drinking?

Regular and repeated excessive consumption of alcohol can result in tolerance.8 Tolerance means a person needs more alcohol than they typically consume to achieve the desired effects, or the typical amount of alcohol consumed does not produce the same effects as usual.6

Tolerance develops over time, and the degree to which tolerance develops for alcohol and other substances varies significantly across different people.6

Does Binge Drinking Require Treatment?

Binge drinking can be part of a pattern of alcohol misuse, and as such, treatment may help. Identifying problematic drinking early on and intervening with effective treatment can help lower the risks of adverse consequences and mitigate the risk for development of a more severe alcohol use disorder.4

Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder in Las Vegas

If you or a loved one are struggling with problematic alcohol use, Desert Hope Treatment Center offers outpatient and inpatient rehab in Las Vegas. With several levels of addiction treatment available and different ways to treat addiction, the expert clinical team customizes treatment for each person’s individual needs.

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