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Quick Dose: When Drinking Becomes Binge Drinking

The Effects on Your Health and Well-Being

Do you enjoy a glass of wine after a long day at work or when socializing with a friend? Drinking alcohol is a very normal and accepted behavior in American society. However, it's important to remember that alcohol is drug — so drinking any amount of alcohol comes with risks.

If you drink alcohol excessively, it can have very negative health effects. This includes binge drinking, a behavior that one in six U.S. adults do about four times each month.

Binge drinking is actually the most common form of excessive drinking.—and this behavior has increased since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

What Is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is the pattern of drinking enough alcohol to bring a person's blood alcohol concentration to 0.08% or above. For men ages 21 and older, this usually happens after they drink five or more alcoholic beverages in a two-hour period. For women ages 21 and older, it usually happens after they drink four or more alcoholic beverages.

"Although not everyone who binge drinks has an addiction to alcohol, binge drinking is a risky behavior because there is a risk of overdose and impairment," says Jeffrey T. Johnson, DO, Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group board-certified specialist in addiction medicine. Binge drinking is still a serious public health problem that can severely damage your health and well-being.

"Binge drinking occurs when people drink excessive amounts of alcohol in a short period of time, often in social settings while feeding off of others," says Dr. Johnson. In combination with peer pressure or a desire to feel less anxious or awkward, lack of awareness of the consequences can lead to binge drinking.

The Negative Effects

Research suggests there is a correlation between many different long-term and short-term health issues and binge drinking. This includes:

  1. Blackouts (the temporary loss of consciousness or short-term memory), overdose and alcohol poisoning
  2. Unsafe sexual behavior, leading to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases
  3. Deadly incidents and injuries, such as falls, burns and car crashes
  4. Violence, including domestic violence and suicide
  5. Reduced memory and ability to think and process
  6. Long-term heart-related diseases, liver disease and high blood pressure
  7. Certain cancers, such as breast, head and neck, liver, esophageal and colorectal cancers

"Binge drinking also puts people at a greater risk for an alcohol use disorder. The earlier someone begins drinking and drinking excessively, the higher their risk of developing an addiction and dependence on alcohol," states Dr. Johnson.

Drink in Moderation

Although binge drinking can be very harmful to your body and your brain, it is also preventable. If and when you drink, the latest U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest limiting the amount to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

If you or someone you know is abusing alcohol and needs help, please contact your physician or Alcoholics Anonymous.