While many people enjoy a drink or two now and again, there are definitely others who seem to have trouble controlling their alcohol intake. Excessive alcohol consumption can quickly turn into binge drinking, which has several short and long-term effects on a person's health and well-being. With increased awareness of this problem, people can learn why binge drinking is so dangerous. This article describes more about what binge drinking is and the effects it has on an individual's health.
What Is Binge Drinking?
According to the CDC, binge drinking is excessive alcohol use which brings a person's blood alcohol level (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. Since the average person can't gauge their own BAC, this is generally defined as four drinks for a woman or five drinks for a man when consumed in two hours or less.
Most people who binge drink are not alcohol dependent because the situations in which they binge drink are typically isolated. However, it is still a serious problem affected many people. In the United States, about 75 percent of the alcohol consumed by adults is in the form of binge drinks. The problem is even greater in young people; about 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by individuals under 21 is in the form of binge drinks. Binge drinking is also very closely associated with drunk driving.
Because binge drinking creates such a huge change in a person's BAC, there are several short-term effects that it causes, including:
- Difficulty with coordination and balance
- Memory loss
- Poor decision-making, such as having unprotected sex or driving while intoxicated
- Loss of consciousness
In extreme cases, a person who is binge drinking may get alcohol poisoning. Some of the key signs of alcohol poisoning include slow or irregular breathing, paleness, low body temperature or seizures. People with alcohol poison may also go into a coma. If any of these symptoms occur, a person should call 911 immediately since it could be fatal.
Although the short-term effects of binge drinking can be extremely uncomfortable and hard to deal with, it's the long-term effects which can be even more detrimental to an individual's health. Among the many negative long-term effects of binge drinking are:
- Brain damage: Many animal studies suggest that, over time, binge drinking may lead to brain damage that diminishes a person's ability to relearn and make decisions. More importantly, however, is how much more profound this effect tends to be on young people. Adolescent brains are affected by binge drinking in a much more dramatic fashion than an adult brain. Young people who binge drink may have damage to their forebrain, which is the area of the brain which envisions future outcomes. These individuals may have less control over their cravings for alcohol in the future.
- Liver damage: Excessive alcohol intake can cause significant damage to the liver, so this is often a side effect for those who binge drink regularly. If the damage becomes extreme, an individual may even develop liver disease.
- Cardiovascular disease: In addition to brain damage and liver damage, drinking excessively may also cause problems for the heart. In particular, binge drinking places more stress on the heart as the body's BAC increases dramatically. Among the many cardiovascular problems which may develop as a result of binge drinking are high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.
- Alcoholism: As stated before, most people who binge drink do not develop a dependence on alcohol. However, it is still a risk for those who binge drink, especially when a person starts binge drinking multiple times a week. It's important to note that the dependence on alcohol may be physical, psychological or both.
- Sexual dysfunction: Some people who binge drink develop sexual dysfunction issues. This is especially prevalent in men who binge drink because it puts them at a higher risk for erectile dysfunction.
- Emotional problems: People who binge drink have an increased risk of developing a variety of emotional problems, such as depression or problems in personal relationships. Additionally, the binge drinking may lead to problems at work or at school.
Finally, it's important to note that some of the side effects that come from poor decision-making while binge drinking can have long-term effects on a person's life. For instance, if you have unprotected sex while drinking, you may end up with an unwanted pregnancy, and sexually transmitted disease or even an HIV infection. These are serious consequences to take into account before you drink.
If you are struggling with binge drinking, consider seeing a counselor or therapist about it. Furthermore, if you have a habit of binge drinking you should see a doctor since you may be suffering from one of the long-term effects listed above.