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Binge drinking is a major problem in a society (and world) where alcohol is overwhelmingly popular, partly due to the fact that it is relatively inexpensive and omnipresent. Whether used socially and recreationally, or as a coping mechanism to escape from emotional, physical, or psychological issues—alcohol is a highly destructive and, in many cases, lethal force.
The socioeconomic problem of alcohol consumption is complicated by the fact that it is relentlessly and unscrupulously promoted by a billion-dollar-a-year advertising industry. A drive across any major city or highway in America is all the evidence one would need to witness its powerful, deceptive influence in the form of glowing Budweiser signs, glamorized Jack Daniel’s billboards, and an over-abundance of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs that all feature alcohol as the main attraction. Young, impressionable minds are especially targeted, with alcohol commercials an inescapable part of channel surfing and internet advertisement. In fact, researchers at the Rand Corporation recently published a study showing that American youth are exposed to alcohol advertisements approximately three times daily—setting the stage for future binge drinking and alcoholism.
BINGE DRINKING AND ALCOHOLISM
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse (NIAA), binge drinking is commonly defined as a pattern of immoderate alcohol consumption that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams or above. In order for this dangerous threshold to be reached, men would have to consume five or more beverages in one episode (within the past month), and women would have to consume at least four. Contrary to popular myth, binge drinking is not necessarily related to alcohol dependence and approximately 90 percent of binge drinkers are not alcohol-dependent. Regardless, binge drinking is still considered a major risk factor associated with alcoholism.
The socioeconomic repercussions associated with binge-drinking are staggering. A growing body of empirical evidence implicates binge-drinking and immoderate alcohol consumption in a societal epidemic of crime, mental and physical health challenges, and death. For example:
- According to NIAA, in 2015, approximately 140 million Americans aged 12 or older reported current alcohol use, with approximately 70 million reporting recent binge-drinking.
- Approximately 475, 000 college students had unprotected sex stemming from excessive alcohol consumption, and 97,000 were victims of alcohol-related sexual assault.
- Within a 12 month period, approximately 700,000 college students were assaulted by another intoxicated student, and an additional 600,000 were injured due to excessive drinking.
- Approximately 90 percent of US adults who reported excessive drinking engaged in binge drinking within the past month.
- A large population-based alcohol study was performed on older adults in the US. The study, which analyzed drinking patterns and associated mortality risk in 4,691 adults aged 60 and older, determined that approximately 70 percent of those at-risk were due to excessive alcohol consumption in the presence of co-occurring disorders and conditions such as depression, anxiety, gout, arthritis, taking pain or other medications, etc.
- In 2015, men and woman reported higher co-incidences of binge drinking when compared to previous years. Approximately 30 percent of men and 20 percent of women over the age of 12 admitted to engaging in binge drinking within the past 30 days.
- Approximately two out of three college students admitted to binge drinking within the past month.
- Binge-drinking costs society approximately 200 billion dollars annually in lost productivity, healthcare services, and costs associated with the criminal justice system.
ASSOCIATED HEALTH RISKS OF BINGE DRINKING
According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), binge drinking and alcoholism are the third leading cause of death in the United States, and approximately 90,000 deaths annually are related to excessive alcohol consumption. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides the following corroborative evidence:
- Approximately 38 million people binge-drink a minimum of four times monthly, with 6 dying daily from alcohol poisoning.
- In 2014, alcohol-related driving fatalities accounted for approximately 10,000 deaths, or 31 percent of total driving fatalities.
Beyond the very real and disturbing possibility of premature death, a multitude of mental, physical, and psychological problems are all inextricably linked to excessive alcohol consumption—some mild and immediate, and others permanently debilitating. Binge drinking is commonly associated with DUIs and reckless driving charges, other traffic-related accidents, violent altercations, sexual and physical assault, domestic violence, hunting and fishing accidents, falls, drowning and burns, and ultimately, alcoholism.
Alcohol ravages the human brain and assaults the body in ways that many users cannot possibly fathom. For example, binge drinking is directly related to damage to the prefrontal cortex and other delicate brain regions essential to healthy, autonomous adult functioning. The prefrontal cortex, in particular, is responsible for a number of critical abilities called executive functions. These include reasoning, planning, rational decision making, impulse-control, and organized thought.
Once executive functioning is temporarily or permanently damaged, a number of life-altering consequences emerge and negatively impact every aspect of a drinker’s life, and that of their family and friends. Cognitive distortions, personal and professional failures, physical diseases, and psychological instability are all hallmarks of the alcohol-damaged brain. Particularly in adolescents aged 18-25, who have not yet reached full cognitive development, this sets into motion a vicious cycle characterized by the compulsive need to keep drinking despite mounting consequences.
In older adults, the effects of earlier binge drinking take a variety of debilitating forms. Due to alcohol’s volatile and unpredictable interaction with age-based psychological and physiological changes, excessive alcohol consumption among senior citizens can result in serious health challenges. It can also intensify existing comorbidities or worsen co-occurring disorders. Seniors who continue to drink despite earlier warning signs may experience the following:
- Cirrhosis, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS), and increased risk of hemorrhaging
- Severely impaired immune function and subsequent inability to fight cancer or infection
- Decreased bone density leading to osteoporosis
- Gastrointestinal distress, ulcers and bleeding
- Clinically significant anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues
- Heightened risk of hypertension, myocardial infarction, cardiomyopathy, and cardiac arrhythmia.
Another frequently overlooked consequence associated with binge-drinking is malnutrition. Excessive alcohol consumption floods the body with toxins and depletes necessary reserves of vitamins, minerals and nutrients over time. This, in turn, leads to a number of physical and cognitive impairments and, even in the best of cases, leads to suboptimal daily functioning.
Once alcohol use has spiraled out of control and begins to have a destructive effect on the life of a drinker, intervention becomes critical. Initial interventions may include a family member, boss, coworker or friend pointing out immediate concerns and listing a number of negative behaviors and consequences associated with the alcohol abuse. Others many include hiring a professional interventionist, legal threats, or deliberate distancing or alienation from the person and/or behavior in question.
In many cases, early interventions fail due to the refusal of the alcohol-affected individual to face the gravity and reality of the situation. Some even react with hostility or defiance at the mere mentioning of the problem, as binge-drinking and alcoholism are both conditions characterized by dangerous, irrational behavior and psychological instability. Whereas some binge-drinkers are well-defended and able to logically and coherently address the concerns of family or friends, others are highly reactive and stubbornly well-defended. In such cases, professional treatment and intervention become necessary.
A number of highly effective options exist for the treatment of binge-drinking and alcoholism including inpatient detox, intensive outpatient therapy (IOP), or outpatient therapy (OP). The industry “gold standard” has long been considered intensive inpatient treatment, a highly supportive environment in which 24/7 care is provided by a staff comprised of highly trained doctors, clinicians and mental health professionals—usually for a period of between one and three months. Such treatment provides a safe, evidence-based format for medically supervised detox and maximizes peer camaraderie and support until an individual struggling with alcohol abuse achieves greater stability.
Following successful completion of inpatient detox for alcohol abuse, clients are faced with the long-term challenge of maintaining sobriety and avoiding triggers that lead to relapse. The following, empirically proven relapse prevention strategy yields the best results:
- Involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
- Active sponsorship
- Continuing medication management
- Random drug testing
- Life and jobs skills coaching
- Sober peer support
- Healthy diet and physical activity
- One-on-one and/or group therapy
Although binge-drinking may be normalized to a certain extent due to the prevalence of alcohol in society, it is a serious, pathological condition that demands aggressive treatment. If you or someone you love is suffering from binge-drinking, or exhibiting other concerning alcohol-related behaviors, call a substance abuse professional today and seek the help you need before it is too late.
For more about alcohol addiction and recovery, check out these related articles:
- “Christmas Spirits: Saying “No” to Alcohol at Work Holiday Parties”
- “Health Risks of Drinking Games”
- “What is Alcohol Poisoning and its Link to Addiction”
- “The Complete Guide to Drug and Alcohol Intervention”
Journal of General Psychology. Heavy Drinking in College Students: Who Is at Risk and What Is Being Done About It? October, 2006.
Alcohol Research Current Reviews (ARCR). The Burden of Alcohol Use. Vol 35, 2014.
AAP News and Journals Gateway. Frequent Binge Drinking Among US Adults. June, 2017.
PLOS One. Binge drinking during adolescence and young adulthood is associated with deficits in verbal episodic memory. Feb, 2017.