A stereotypical description of a binge drinker involves a young person, a late night and a college campus. Drinking until it’s physically impossible to take in any more liquor seems to be a common, and somewhat accepted, part of the life of young people who are exploring their independence. About 90 percent of the alcohol drunk by people younger than 21 is taken during a binging episode, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These students aren’t just taking in a little alcohol to liven up an evening. They’re downing a huge amount all at once, living up to the stereotype.
However, binging isn’t an activity that only the young pursue. In fact, many adults who drink also binge. In fact, the CDC suggests that about half of all the alcohol adults drink comes in the form of a binge. Some of these adults started binging when they were young, but many others seem to pick up the habit much later in life.
No matter when a binge drinking habit takes hold, it can be dangerous. In fact, binge drinking even once could lead to a significant amount of pain that might be slow to heal, both for the person doing the drinking, and for others who come into contact with that person during the drunken episode.
A binging habit is typically identified by the number of drinks a person takes in during a specific period of time. For women, taking in four drinks or more in one sitting is considered a binge, while men need to take in five or more drinks in order to participate in a binge.
Putting this much alcohol into the body at once results in an overwhelming sense of impairment, as the body just can’t process the substance at that speed. As a result, the person who binges can feel impaired for a long period of time, as the alcohol continues to swirl around inside the body, just waiting for its moment to be processed. It’s difficult to stop the process, too, as the body simply must have time in order to do its work. Those who binge must wait for the storm to pass, before they’re restored to normal.
Some people drink like this in a social setting, such as a:
- Bachelor party
- Holiday celebration
- Neighborhood barbeque
- Retirement party
If the party is lively and everyone involved is drinking, it can be easy for anyone to lose track of the amount of alcohol consumed. Sometimes downing a significant portion of alcohol even seems like the entire point of the party, and people might feel as though they simply must play along in order to be accepted.
But there are people who binge on their own, for no reason that they might be willing to define. They might buy a bottle of something they like, curl up by the television and set to drinking the entire amount. They might also drink like this because they’ve experienced something terrible during that day, and they’d like to obliterate the memory.
Immediate Harm to the Self
Regardless of the reasons that stand behind the binge, the dangers to the drinker are serious, and many of them take hold during the time that the person is intoxicated. For example, alcohol can distort a person’s sense of balance and space, and coordination can also be impaired. When these two factors are in play, people can trip and fall, or if they attempt to do something like cook, they might obtain a cut or a burn. Those who mix alcohol with yard work or housework might also be injured by the tools they use.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), these sorts of injuries are common, as close to 600,000 people ages 18 to 24 receive such injuries each year while they’re under the influence.
In addition to enduring injuries due to some sort of accident, people who binge might also develop an injury due to the decisions they make while under the influence. They might choose to drink in the company of predatory people, for example, and they might be sexually assaulted while they’re recovering from their intoxication. They might also be robbed or beaten while they’re passed out.
People who drink to excess can also sedate their bodies to such a degree that their breathing rates slow and their gag reflexes are dulled. As a result, they might deprive vital brain cells of oxygen, and they could die due to that lack. Sometimes people who drink to excess develop a need to vomit, but without a proper gag reflex, they may drown in the vomit they produce. This could also result in death. Unfortunately, deaths like this are relatively common, as the NIAAA suggests that accidental alcohol poisoning was responsible for more than 1,300 deaths between 1996 and 1998 alone.
Possible Harm to Others
While it’s clear that people who binge drink are taking terrible risks with their own health and happiness, drinking like this can also be dangerous to other people who happen to cross the path of the intoxicated person. For example, binge drinking has been associated with intensified feelings of rage and violence, prompting some people under the influence to attack others. The National Institutes of Health suggests that an estimated 696,000 people ages 18 to 24 are assaulted by a drunken student each year.
While some intoxicated people do damage with their hands, feet and other parts of their bodies in physical altercations, some binge drinkers do their damage by sliding behind the wheel of a car. Since their reflexes are impaired, they may not have the skills that allow them to drive safely, and each car that passes them by on the road could be at risk for a collision. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that about 32 percent of all of the traffic-related deaths in the United States in 2008 could be attributed to alcohol. This demonstrates just how deadly a binge drinker can be when that person is behind the wheel of a car.
A fight or a car crash is a spectacular demonstration of the dangers of alcohol, but some forms of damage are much more subtle. For example, women who binge drink while pregnant can expose their developing babies to an extraordinary amount of alcohol, and that can result in:
- Facial deformities
- Small birth size
- Behavioral delays
- Early birth
The baby may not have the ability to let the woman know that harm is occurring, but the damage done in the womb can be permanent.
While it’s clear that intoxicated people can do a significant amount of harm in the moment, those dangers don’t really disappear when sobriety returns. In fact, people who binge drink regularly can do a significant amount of long-term damage.
Alcohol is processed by vital organs, including the stomach, the liver and the kidneys. These organs must work overtime, when a binge is in progress, and alcohol can be toxic to all of these tissues. People who make a habit of binging could do a significant amount of damage to their tissues, and that could make the rest of life a little harder to enjoy. In addition, people who binge regularly might develop an addiction to alcohol, particularly if they begin drinking like this early in life, according to a study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. While people who binge on a random occasion might never meet the diagnostic criteria for alcoholism, those who do so regularly might very well come to need the substance, and they might need intensive counseling in order to recover.
If you’re concerned about the drinking habits of someone you love, please call us at The Oaks at La Paloma. We have a variety of options that could be just right for your family. For example, if the binging behavior is new, the person you love might benefit from participating in a few counseling sessions through our outpatient program, so that habit can be stopped before it progresses. If the behavior is more entrenched, the person might benefit from our comprehensive residential program. Just call us, and we’ll explain these options in detail.