Addictions come in many forms.
Drinking to the point of intoxication on the weekends is often considered socially acceptable, especially among young adults and college kids. In fact, many consider it a rite of passage to adulthood.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), about 90% of alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 in the US is by binge drinking. However, the CDC also reports that 70% of binge drinking is done by adults over 26 years of age.
Over 50% of the alcohol consumed in the US is from binge drinking. Of those who binge drink, adults ages 65 and older report binge drinking more frequently than young adults, around 5-6 times per month. People with incomes of $75,000 or more are more likely to binge drink than those from lower income homes.
What is Binge Drinking?
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) considers binge drinking to be consuming enough alcohol in two hours to raise your blood alcohol content to 0.08. For women, this is about 4 drinks and for men, it is about 5 drinks.
Is Binge Drinking Harmful?
Binge drinking places the drinker at risk for a host of safety and health problems. According to the CDC, binge drinking may result in:
· Accidental harm to oneself
· 14 times higher rates of driving under the influence
· Health problems, including hypertension, stroke, other heart disease and liver disease
· Harm to others, including interpersonal violence, sexual assault, domestic violence and gun violence
· Sexual dysfunction
· Sexually transmitted diseases
· Unplanned pregnancies
· Children born with birth defects, ie. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
· Alcohol poisoning
· Neurological disorders
· And others.
Is Binge Drinking an Addiction or Problem Drinking?
The Mayo Clinic defines alcoholism as a chronic and usually progressive disease that involves difficulty controlling your alcohol consumption, being preoccupied with drinking, continuing to use alcohol despite the problems drinking causes, needing more alcohol to feel the effects or experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop or reduce your normal consumption. They describe one with alcoholism as being unable to consistently predict how much s/he will drink, how long s/he will drink or what consequences will happen as a result of his/her drinking.
The Mayo Clinic describes problem drinking as consuming too much alcohol at times and experiencing repeated problems due to your alcohol use, although you have not become totally dependent on alcohol. The way many therapists explain problem drinking is when alcohol use causes problems in some area of your life: work, legal, family and relationships, health, mental health, financial and others.
Following that logic, one might have a problem with alcohol if they regularly miss work due to drinking, or perform poorly at work or school due to hangovers, etc. Some might spend money on alcohol that is needed to pay bills or buy groceries. Others might have conflict with family members or friends for breaking promises or missing engagements in lieu of drinking.
What we know about binge drinking is that the more frequently people drink, the more likely they are to develop alcoholism or problem drinking. What began as a few parties on the weekend can become a dependence. For those who have a genetic predisposition toward alcoholism, the stakes are even higher.
Risk Factors for Alcoholism and Problem Drinking
· Regular drinking over time, including binge drinking.
· Age – a person begins drinking – those who begin early in life are at more risk.
· A family history of alcoholism leads to higher risk.
· Mental health disorders – people with mental illness are at greater risk.
· Friends or close relatives who drink increase your risk.
· Mixing medication and alcohol – some medications increase (or decrease) the impact of alcohol.
Should I Stop Drinking?
Whether, when or how to stop drinking is an individual decision. If you find you have any of the risk factors listed above, you definitely need to give serious thought to stopping. If you experience any of the harmful effects of binge drinking, you certainly should consider how to stop or limit your drinking. Those who meet the criteria above for problem drinking or alcoholism may need professional help to stop.
Begin with a visit to your primary care provider for a physical. Tell her/him about your concerns regarding your alcohol use. Ask for help in stopping or cutting down. You will likely receive information about counseling and/or self-help. Some people find a combination of the two is most helpful. It is very important to be honest with yourself and anyone you work with to stop or cut down on your drinking.
"Alcoholism." Mayo Clinic. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.
"Fact Sheets - Binge Drinking." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 07 Nov. 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2014.
"Moderate & Binge Drinking." National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Web. 17 Mar. 2014.