If you’re like many Americans, enjoying a glass of wine with dinner or a cold beer after work feels routine. IPA and Chardonnay are household names, perhaps consumed as often as orange juice and coffee. While the dangers of drinking to excess or driving while buzzed are clear to most, you may still be surprised to learn the relatively few number of drinks it takes to be classified by the CDC as a binge drinker.
As the most common form of excessive alcohol consumption in the US, binge drinking is quickly becoming a public health concern. Women who have more than four drinks in the span of two hours, and men who have more than five, are considered binge drinkers. To be clear, one “drink” isn’t downing your favorite coffee tumbler filled with wine or recycling that Dave and Busters give-away cup to enjoy a night cap. One serving of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, (equivalent to a tall coffee at Starbucks), 5 ounces of wine (think of a Yoplait yogurt container), or 1.5 ounces of liquor (about 3 tablespoons) – just as long as it’s not Everclear.
What are the dangers of binge drinking?
Binge drinking raises a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or higher, and as a result greatly increases one’s risk of high blood pressure, liver and neurological damage, and alcohol poisoning. While age, gender, ethnicity, food intake, and experience with drinking influence an individual’s BAC, binge drinking’s high impact over a short period of time leads to more unintended, harmful consequences as a result of excessive alcohol consumption.
The definition of binge drinking has evolved as more information about the negative consequences of extreme alcohol intake has been uncovered. Yet frighteningly, binge drinking has become the norm – especially among the college-aged demographic. While we all enjoyed drinking and celebrating during our 20’s, the quantity and frequency of alcohol consumption has increased significantly over the past decades. George F. Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, explains the amount regularly consumed by twenty-somethings in a typical outing has doubled within the last two decades – bleeding the lines between casual drinking, binge drinking, and alcohol abuse.
Are we only talking about college students?
Not exactly. It’s true binge drinking is very common among college-aged individuals, with over 1,800 people between the ages of 18 and 24 estimated to die each year from alcohol-related incidents (such as drunk driving collisions, alcohol poisoning, and unintentional injuries). However, national surveys indicate 1 in 6 adults binge drink at least 4 times a month. And those adults over the age of 65 who report binge drinking are even more likely to do so – averaging 5 to 6 times per month.
The moral of the story: a majority of people who binge drink occasionally will have no negative repercussions, but it only takes one rash decision to place yourself in serious danger. It’s important to be educated about the harms of binge drinking and to know your limits, especially when it comes to alcohol. While you’re at it, keep an eye out for your friends, too.