Binge Drinking

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on September 01, 2022
3 min read

Binge drinking is when you drink enough alcohol to bring your blood-alcohol content up to the legal limit for driving. That works out to about five alcoholic drinks for men or four for women in less than 2 hours. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.

Most American adults drink alcohol at least occasionally, but about 1 in 4 knock back several drinks in a short period of time at least once a year. About 1 in 6 American adults say they regularly binge drink, sometimes several times a month. They typically have about seven drinks on these binges.

Adults under 35 are more likely to do this than other age groups, and men are twice as likely as women. People who make more than $75,000 a year and are more educated are most likely to binge drink. Learn more about alcohol abuse vs dependence.

Binge drinking has different effects on different people. If your alcohol use is causing trouble for you at work, at home, in social situations, or at school, it’s a problem.

Other signs of an issue can include:

  • Drinking more than you planned
  • Drinking more often
  • Drinking early in the day
  • Feeling defensive about your drinking
  • Not being able to slow down or stop your drinking
  • Needing more alcohol to get the same effect
  • Giving up activities you enjoy to spend more time drinking
  • Feeling shaky, weak, or nauseated when you haven’t had a drink in a while
  • Taking part in dangerous activities when you drink
  • Having “blackouts,” or gaps in your memory, after drinking

If you think you have a drinking problem, talk to your doctor. They can give you some tips for cutting back or refer you to help if you need it to quit.

Federal and state health agencies also offer resources and can refer you to someone who can help.

Researchers blame this kind of heavy drinking for more than half of the roughly 88,000 alcohol-related deaths -- from car crashes, alcohol poisoningsuicide, and violence -- that happen every year.

Binge drinking also can:

  • Throw off your heartbeat, which can lead to problems like heart attacks or strokes
  • Make you more likely to take part in risky sexual behavior or get a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
  • Raise the odds that you’ll be a victim of sexual violence
  • Cause memory problems in young adults

And it has costs beyond the bar tab. Heavy drinking is believed to cost the U.S. economy more than $200 billion a year in lost productivity, health costs, and property damage.

Short- and long-term effects of binge drinking

Short-term effects of binge drinking include:

  • Poor motor control and slower reaction times
  • Shorter attention span
  • Dehydration
  • Sleepiness
  • Depression
  • Hostility
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slower breathing
  • Miscarriage or stillbirth in pregnant women, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in their babies
  • Alcohol poisoning, which can lead to vomiting, seizures, a coma, and death

Over time, binge drinking may cause:

  • Weight gain
  • High blood pressure
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Social isolation
  • Mental health problems
  • Loss of brain volume in young people
  • Weakened immune system
  • Heart disease
  • Liver problems
  • Stroke
  • Higher chances of breast, throat, esophagus, or colon cancer

Nine out of 10 binge drinkers aren’t dependent on alcohol, but doctors and scientists think they’re more likely to develop alcohol use disorder.

The chances are especially high for people who drink heavily during their teen years. Teenage binge drinkers are about three times more likely to develop alcohol use disorder.

Take these steps to lower your risk while drinking:

  • Limit how much you have at one time. If you drink, experts recommend an average of no more than one drink per day for women and two for men.
  • Drink more slowly.
  • Have some food while you drink.
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with nonalcoholic ones. Water is best.
  • Make a plan. Drink with people you trust, and know how you’ll get home safely.