What is binge drinking?
Alcohol is the most widely used recreational drug. We have a culture of socially accepting the drinking of alcohol. The definition of binge drinking is drinking heavily in a short space of time to get drunk or to feel the effects of alcohol.
What’s the difference between drinking normally and binge drinking?
People should not regularly drink more than the daily unit guidelines of 3-4 units of alcohol for men (equivalent to a pint and a half of 4% beer) and 2-3 units of alcohol for women (equivalent to a 175 ml glass of wine). ‘Regularly’ means drinking every day or most days of the week. Two large glasses of wine may not seem like very much. But drinking six units of alcohol in a short space of time – an hour, say – will raise your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and could make you drunk very quickly.
Binge drinking is drinking heavily on a single occasion, or drinking continuously over a number of days or weeks. It is also commonly known as ‘getting smashed’, or ‘drinking to get drunk’.
A person who binge drinks can often drink in a restrained way, but also may frequently overindulge to an extreme level. Alternatively, someone may not necessarily set out to drink a lot, but may be unsure of their limits, resulting in drinking too much over a short period of time.
You may also be more likely to binge drink if you are feeling peer pressure to do so. Or, you may be feeling anxious or socially awkward, for example at a party, and you may binge drink with the aim to reduce those feelings.
Is binge drinking harmful?
Yes! Binge drinking can be immediately and directly harmful to your health. It can expose you to injury or to unnecessary risks to yourself and others. As well as having adverse short-term effects, binge drinking can also cause long-term effects on your health and well-being.
What are the effects of binge drinking?
Getting very drunk can affect your physical and mental health:
Accidents and falls are common because being drunk affects your balance and co-ordination. You’re also more likely to suffer head, hand and facial injuries. Binge drinking has also been linked to self-harm. In extreme cases, you could die. Overdosing on alcohol can stop you breathing or stop your heart, or you could choke on your vomit.
Nearly a third (29%) of alcohol related deaths are a result of alcohol related accidents. These deaths are more common among 16-34-year-olds. Binge drinking can affect your mood and your memory and in the longer term can lead to serious mental health problems.
If you drink to excess you’re likely to experience a number of physical effects, including:
- vomiting and memory loss
- injury to yourself
- alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol is a major cause of injury and death among young people. When you’re drunk, you’re more likely to put yourself in risky situations, like getting into a car with someone who’s been drinking, or being the perpetrator or victim of violence.
Long-term effects of binge drinking regularly
Continuous heavy drinking over a long period of time can lead to:
- physical and psychological dependence on alcohol
- significant damage to the brain and liver
- risk of cancer of the mouth, throat or oesophagus
- possible increased risk of neurological disorders, heart problems, and sexual problems (especially male impotency)
- risk of emotional and mental health problems developing, such as depression and anxiety
- problems at school, work and with relationships.
Other possible effects of binge drinking
In addition to the health risks, binge drinking may also impact your self esteem and social life, because you may find yourself doing things when you’re drunk that you wouldn’t normally do if you were sober. In fact, many people who get drunk will do something they regret.
Being drunk affects your judgment and may lead to you:
- Having unprotected sex, or unwanted sex. This might lead to unwanted pregnancy, or STIs.
- Feeling bad about yourself and embarrassed by your actions
- Losing friends or loved ones as a result of your behaviour
- Losing money that you need for other things after reckless spending on alcohol
How much can you drink?
We all respond to alcohol differently, and it is important that you know your own limits, and understand how alcohol affects you as an individual. How alcohol affects you may be
influenced by a number of factors, such as:
- how much alcohol you drink
- how quickly you drink it
- whether you consume the alcohol with other drugs
- whether you’re male or female
- your mood
- your body type
- whether or not you’ve eaten.
If you have not drunken alcohol before, it may be difficult for you to know what your limits are. The first time you drink alcohol, it may be a good idea to try drinking in a safe area, where someone can help you if you drink too much. This might be at home, or at a friend’s place.
Tips for controlling your drinking
There are a number of things you can do to keep your drinking under control, including:
- set limits for yourself and stick to them
- start with a non-alcoholic drink
- try having a ‘spacer’ – alternating non-alcoholic drinks with alcoholic drinks
- drink slowly – take sips not gulps
- try a low alcohol alternative to a pre-mixed drink
- eat before or while you are drinking, avoid salty snacks, they make you thirsty
- avoid rounds or ‘shouts’
- have one drink at a time, so you can keep track
- avoid sculling competitions, and drinking games
- stay busy – don’t just sit and drink
- be assertive – don’t be pressured into drinking more than you want or intend to.
Managing alcohol intake
Managing your alcohol use may be difficult. If you reduce your alcohol use you may still crave for it for sometime afterwards. Try not to be too hard on yourself if you don’t reach your immediate goal. Having to try several times may be part of reducing your use and it is important you keep trying. It may be helpful to have someone you can talk to. This may be a friend, a family member, doctor or a counsellor.