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The Risks of Binge Drinking

Binge drinking – the consumption of five or more drinks by a man or four or more drinks by a woman in roughly two hours – is a serious public health issue. Learning about the problems binge drinking can cause may help you get help for yourself or a loved one.

The practice of binge drinking is most common in men, people ages 18 to 34 and people with household incomes of $75,000 and up.

About 90% of the alcohol consumed by underage drinkers is in the form of binge drinking. And 44% of college students binge drink.

Young people who first got drunk when they were 18 or younger are more likely to be alcohol dependent and frequent heavy drinkers. Binge drinking is also connected to a wide variety of health effects, including:

  • Car crashes
  • Falls
  • Drowning
  • Firearm injuries
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Unintended pregnancy
  • Domestic violence
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Brain damage
  • Poor control of diabetes
  • Children born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

College students who binge drink are 21 times more likely than students who don't to miss classes; fall behind in school; commit vandalism; engage in unprotected sex; have run-ins with campus police; and drive after drinking.

Children whose families clearly show that they are expected to not drink are less likely to begin drinking before they reach 21. It's also important to set clear consequences for breaking those rules.

Does Binge Drinking Mean You Have an Alcohol Problem?

It's not always easy to identify someone who struggles with alcoholism—even when that person is the one in the mirror. Drinking too much places you in danger of consequences ranging from accidents to chronic diseases to losing jobs and relationships. Admitting you have a problem marks the first step toward improving your health and your life.

Take This Self-Test

Low-risk drinkers do not engage in binge drinking. On average, they consume one drink per day for women and two for men. Their weekly totals reach no more than seven beverages if they're female and 14 among males. Ask yourself whether you regularly exceed these limits or whether you have:

  • Experienced problems at home, school, or work due to drinking
  • Ended up drinking more than you planned or tried unsuccessfully to cut back
  • Felt annoyed because others criticized your drinking
  • Had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or relieve a hangover
  • Felt anxious or depressed because of your drinking

If you answer yes to one or more of these questions, your relationship with alcohol seems to interfere with the rest of your life. Consider taking steps to quit or cut back.

Create Your Support Team

Only you can decide you're ready to change your relationship with alcohol. But talking with a doctor or other health care professional can help you assess your drinking habits and decide a course of action.

Family members and friends can support you when you've made your decision. Explain your goals and request help in specific ways. For instance, ask them to refrain from using alcohol around you and avoid making new demands on you for a while.

Rethink That Drink

For more information and resources on how to cut down on your alcohol use, visit www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Krames Staywell, Vitality

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