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There’s a line between drinking casually and binge drinking, but it is a line that, once crossed, can have deleterious effects.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking is defined for a woman as consuming 4 or more drinks in 2 hours and for a man as consuming 5 or more drinks in 2 hours. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has defined binge drinking as the most deadly pattern of excessive alcohol use due to the demand on the body’s ability to process the alcohol at such a high rate in little time. How your body processes alcohol depends on several factors, including:

  • How much you drink
  • How often you drink
  • Your age
  • Your health status
  • Your family history

While many people may binge drink, situational factors may make it easy for people to brush off the habit as just a social or stress-relieving activity. However, binge drinking is dangerous. It is a real – and treatable – behavior that is symptomatic of an alcohol use disorder (AUD). According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 10.6 million Americans aged 26 or older had an AUD in the past year.

When binge drinking, the effects of alcohol become stronger and surface more quickly. In the short-term, alcohol acts as a depressant that can lower mood and trigger depressive feelings. “The inability of the body to fully process this much alcohol in the blood leads to far more than just intoxication. Binge drinking causes dizziness, loss of motor coordination, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and loss of consciousness,” Alcohol.org, an American Addiction Center Resource site explains.

In the longer-term, alcohol’s effect on the nervous system can cause anxiety, agitation and further depression and extreme discomfort, often known as the “hangover” feeling. Sometimes, the effects become so uncomfortable, people turn to drinking again to temporarily alleviate the unpleasant symptoms. Ultimately, it can become a vicious cycle that can lead to serious addiction.

While drinking less over a longer period of time can also cause these effects, binge drinking in particular makes it harder to track alcohol consumption and harder to avoid consuming copious amounts. Being aware of what binge drinking is can help prevent it from becoming a habit and developing more serious alcohol abuse. According to the CDC, “over 90% of U.S. adults who drink excessively report binge drinking in the past 30 days,” meaning binge drinking can be a key link to developing longer-term alcoholism.

The statistics on how widespread binge drinking is is astonishing. The CDC reports that one in six U.S. adults binge drinks about 4 times a month, consuming 7 drinks per binge. It has caused more than a few news sites to call out binge drinking as a national epidemic on the rise that should be taken seriously.

Becoming educated on the definition of binge drinking, personal factors that can define a healthy versus unhealthy amount to drink, and the serious health problems that can arise from binge drinking is crucial. By being educated on the topic, individuals can seek help at the early stages of alcohol abuse to prevent the condition from worsening and even gain full recovery.