Binge drinking refers to heavy alcohol use over a short period of time. The general definition of binge drinking is having 5 or more drinks in a row by males or 4 or more drinks in a row by females at least once in the previous 2 weeks. Heavy binge drinking includes 3 or more such episodes in 2 weeks.
Why Do People Binge Drink?
Liquor stores, bars, and alcoholic beverage companies make drinking seem attractive and fun. It's easy for high school and college students to get caught up in a social scene with lots of peer pressure. Inevitably, one of the biggest areas of peer pressure is drinking.
People also might drink because:
They're curious — they want to know what it's like to drink alcohol.
They believe that it will make them feel good, not realizing it could just as easily make them sick and hungover.
They may look at alcohol as a way to reduce stress, even though it can end up creating more stress.
They want to feel older.
What Are the Risks of Binge Drinking?
Many people don't think about the negative side of drinking. Although they think about the possibility of getting drunk, they may not give much consideration to being hungover or throwing up.
You may know from experience that excessive drinking can lead to trouble concentrating, memory lapses, mood changes, and other problems that affect your day-to-day life. But binge drinking carries more serious and longer-lasting risks as well.
Alcohol poisoning is the most life-threatening consequence of binge drinking. When someone drinks too much and gets alcohol poisoning, it affects the body's involuntary reflexes — including breathing and the gag reflex. If the gag reflex isn't working properly, a person can choke to death on their vomit.
Someone with alcohol poisoning also might:
be very confused
be very hard to wake up
have slow or irregular breathing
have a low body temperature
have blue or pale skin
If you think someone has alcohol poisoning, call 911 right away.
Binge drinking impairs judgment, so drinkers are more likely to take risks they might not take when they're sober. If they drive drunk, they might injure, or even kill, themselves or others.
Driving isn't the only motor skill that's impaired. Walking is also harder while intoxicated. Each year, a number of intoxicated pedestrians 16 and older are killed in traffic accidents.
People who are drunk also take other risks they might not normally take when they're sober. For example, people who have impaired judgment may have unprotected sex, putting them at greater risk of a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or unplanned pregnancy.
Studies show that people who binge-drink throughout high school are more likely to be overweight and have high blood pressure by the time they are 24. Just one regular beer contains about 150 calories, which adds up to a lot of calories if someone drinks 4–5 beers a night.
Binge drinkers have a harder time in school and they're more likely to drop out. Drinking disrupts sleep patterns, which can make it harder to stay awake and concentrate during the day. This can lead to struggles with studying and poor academic performance.
People who binge-drink may find that their friends drift away. Drinking can affect someone's personality — they might become angry or moody while drinking, for example.
Some studies have shown that people who binge-drink heavily — those who have 3 or more episodes of binge drinking in 2 weeks — have some of the symptoms of alcoholism.
Where Can I Get Help?
If you think you or a friend have a binge-drinking problem, get help as soon as possible. The best approach is to talk to an adult you trust — if you can't approach your parents, talk to your doctor, school counselor, clergy member, aunt, or uncle.
You also could confide in a trusted friend or older sibling who is easy to talk to. Drinking too much can be the result of social pressures, and sometimes it helps to know there are others who have gone through the same thing.
If you're worried, don't hesitate to ask someone for help. A supportive friend or adult could help you to avoid pressure situations, stop drinking, or find counseling.