Binge Drinking Explained

Most American adults drink alcohol at least occasionally, but about 1 in 4 knocks back several drinks in a short period of time at least once a year. (A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.)

Health officials define binge drinking as having enough to bring your blood-alcohol content up to the legal limit for driving. That works out to about five for men or four for women in less than 2 hours.

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.

Health Problems Linked to Binge Drinking

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

Binge drinking also can:

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.

Binge Drinking and Alcohol Use Disorder

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 of that 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.

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Is My Drinking a Problem?

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

Other signs of an issue may include:

  • Drinking more than you planned
  • Drinking more often
  • Drinking early in the day
  • Feeling defensive about your drinking
  • Being unable 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 nauseous 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.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on March 19, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse of Alcoholism: “Alcohol Facts and Statistics,” “Drinking Levels Defined,” “What are symptoms of alcohol use disorder?”

CDC: “Alcohol Use,” “Binge Drinking.”

American Journal of Preventive Medicine: “Annual Total Binge Drinks Consumed by U.S. Adults, 2015.”

Journal of the American College of Cardiology: “Alcohol and Atrial Fibrillation: A Sobering Review.”

American Addiction Centers: “How to Stop Binge Drinking.”

Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research: “Trends in Adult Alcohol Use and Binge Drinking in the Early 21st-Century United States.”

Drug and Alcohol Dependence: “Demographic trends of binge alcohol use and alcohol use disorders among older adults in the United States, 2005-2014.”

PLoS One: “Binge drinking during adolescence and young adulthood is associated with deficits in verbal episodic memory.”

American Journal of Preventive Medicine: “Economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in the U.S., 2006.”

Preventing Chronic Disease: “Prevalence of Alcohol Dependence Among US Adult Drinkers, 2009–2011.”

American Journal of Psychiatry: “Vulnerability for Alcohol Use Disorder and Rate of Alcohol Consumption.”

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: “Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.”

American Addiction Centers: “How to Find a State-Funded Rehab Center.

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