Everything You Should Know About Binge Drinking

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Binge drinking is defined as excessive alcohol consumption over a short period of time. For men, binge drinking is considered drinking five or more drinks on one occasion. For women, it is four or more drinks.

On the surface, they may appear different, but going to a wedding and drinking a few glasses of wine, getting drunk at a college party on six beers, or sitting at home and drinking a bottle of whiskey are all forms of binge drinking and can all have health consequences.

Read on to learn more about the health effects of binge drinking and how to stop.

People binge drinking at a bar together

Cultura RM Exclusive / Liam Norris / Getty Images

Signs of Binge Drinking

Binge drinking has been described by both number of drinks and blood alcohol content (BAC).

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that if a person drinks enough alcohol on one occasion to bring their BAC above .08%, it is considered a binge drinking event.

This is usually five or more drinks for men, or four or more drinks for women, within a two-hour timespan. However, everyone is different, and some people, particularly younger teens or preteens, will drink less and still reach this BAC.

How Common Is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is the most common type of excessive alcohol use by far. In the United States, about 1 in 6 adults binge drink, and 25% of those people binge drink weekly.

Health Effects of Binge Drinking

Binge drinking can have serious health effects, both short-term and long-term.

Short-Term Effects

When a person drinks alcohol, their liver breaks it down. However, if a person is binge drinking, their liver cannot keep up with the amount of alcohol in the body. This leads to a higher level of alcohol in the bloodstream. As the blood is circulated, alcohol affects all organs and tissues in the body.

The effects of binge drinking can be felt nearly immediately as you begin to feel drunk. A person may begin to feel:

  • Clumsy or dizzy
  • Euphoric
  • Drowsy
  • Free of inhibitions
  • Impaired judgment

The short-term health effects of binge drinking are both physiological and due to the symptoms of intoxication.

Some short-term effects of binge drinking can include:

Unfortunately, even just one episode of binge drinking can lead to death. This could be due to alcohol poisoning or unintentional injury or accident due to intoxication. One study found that nearly half of alcohol-related deaths in the United States were due to binge drinking.

Long-Term Effects

Like other types of excessive alcohol use, binge drinking also has long-term consequences, particularly if a person binge drinks on multiple occasions.

Some long-term effects of binge drinking include:

Help Is Available

If you or a loved one are struggling with binge drinking or substance use disorder, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

How to Stop Binge Drinking

Binge drinking on its own can be dangerous or even deadly; it also increases a person's risk of developing alcohol use disorder. Therefore, it's important to stop binge drinking, particularly if you have repeated episodes of binge drinking.

Some strategies to stop binge drinking include:

  • Avoiding triggers, such as certain people, events, or environments
  • Create a contract with yourself on how often and how much you can drink
  • Delve into the deeper reasons behind your binge drinking (such as distraction, stress, self-esteem, social anxiety, trying to fit in, trauma, or boredom)
  • Consider therapy, counseling, or a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Some signs that you should discuss your drinking habits with a healthcare provider include:

  • Feeling like you need to "get drunk" in certain settings
  • Difficulty reducing your alcohol intake
  • Strong urges or cravings for alcohol
  • Increased alcohol tolerance (having to drink more to reach the same level of intoxication)
  • Work, school, or relationship issues due to alcohol
  • Memory loss ("blackouts" or "brownouts") after drinking

Binge Drinking Prevention

A primary way to prevent binge drinking is to be aware of the social settings it is most likely to occur.

Binge drinking is particularly rampant among young adults who attend college. It's estimated that 33% of college students binge drink in a one-month period.

Other social events—such as weddings, parties, reunions, conferences, networking, and more—can all involve alcohol and cultures that support binge drinking.

This isn't to say that you should not attend college or RSVP "no" to a friend's wedding. But it can be helpful to go into these situations prepared to discuss or deflect your decision not to drink (or to drink less).

Consider preparing for events with some practiced responses, such as:

  • Thank you, but I've reached my quota for tonight.
  • I'm not drinking right now.
  • No. Why don't we dance instead?
  • I'm taking antibiotics, so I can't drink.
  • I'm taking a break from drinking.
  • No thanks, but I'd love water (or another type of beverage).
  • I'm the designated driver tonight.

You may choose to tell close friends or loved ones you are avoiding binge drinking and ask for their support in these social situations. It's also OK to avoid these settings altogether if that is best for you.

Summary

Binge drinking is the most common form of excessive alcohol use. It has serious short-term and long-term health consequences, including alcohol poisoning, accidents, injuries, memory issues, liver problems, and cancer. It can even lead to death in some cases.

Just because binge drinking is normalized in many settings does not mean that it is healthy or even safe. You can take steps to prevent binge drinking, like avoiding situations in which it is likely to occur, saying "no" when offered a drink, or making a commitment to yourself not to drink.

A Word From Verywell

Stopping binge drinking is paramount for your health. Of course, this can be much easier said than done. There are many cultural factors at play in binge drinking, and it can be difficult to change a behavioral pattern that society expects, even if those behaviors are objectively not good for your health. Start by talking to your loved ones or a healthcare provider openly about the effects of your drinking, and try to dig deeper into why you are binge drinking in the first place.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How many drinks per two hours is considered binge drinking?

    Binge drinking is considered five drinks (for men) or four drinks (for women) in a two-hour period.

  • What are some common causes of binge drinking?

    Binge drinking can be caused by social norms that favor drinking large amounts of alcohol in certain environments (like college parties or weddings), peer pressure, availability of alcohol, desire to get drunk to cope with social anxieties, as well as the common but incorrect belief that because alcohol is legal, it is not dangerous.

  • Does binge drinking have long-term effects?

    Yes, binge drinking has long-term effects. Just one episode of binge drinking can lead to pancreatitis, immune system changes, alcohol poisoning, memory loss, and even death. Long-term binge drinking can lead to various cancers, chronic health conditions, fetal alcohol syndrome, and more.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Binge drinking.

  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Understanding binge drinking.

  3. Esser MB, Sherk A, Liu Y, et al. Deaths and years of potential life lost from excessive alcohol use - united states, 2011-2015MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69(39):1428-1433. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6939a6

  4. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. College drinking.