Binge Drinking: When Does It Become a Problem?

Binge drinking is a serious problem in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 6 American adults binge drink approximately 4 times per month, which equals roughly 467 drinks a year per drinker.1

While most binge drinking occurs among people aged 18–34, people over the age of 35 account for more than half of the total amount of binge drinks consumed.1

Read on to learn more about:

  • What binge drinking is.
  • Effects of binge drinking.
  • How to seek treatment if you are concerned about your pattern of alcohol use.

What Is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking involves a pattern of excessive drinking of alcohol within a period of approximately 2 hours that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to around 0.08 g/dl or higher.1

What is binging, then, and how many drinks do you need to ingest to be considered a binge drinker? Binge drinking typically means consuming 5 or more standard drinks for a man or 4 or more standard drinks for a woman within the 2-hour time period.1

In the U.S., a standard drink contains 0.6 grams of alcohol, which is typically contained in: 2

  • 12 ounces of 5% beer
  • 8 ounces of 7% malt liquor
  • 5 ounces of 12% wine
  • 5 ounces of 80-proof hard liquor or distilled spirits, like rum, whiskey, or vodka.

Heavy Drinking

What is considered heavy drinking versus binge drinking? There are slightly different definitions, but both involve excessive alcohol use. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) explains that heavy drinking means consuming more than 4 drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week for men and consuming more than 3 drinks on any day or more than 7 drinks per week for women.3

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines heavy drinking as binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month.3

Binge Drinking Risks

Chronic binge or heavy drinking can be dangerous to your health and overall well-being, and is sometimes an indicator of a broader alcohol problem. In some instances, these types of excessive alcohol consumption can develop into addiction, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD).3

Binge drinking can result in both immediate and long-term consequences to your physical and psychological health, including:2, 4, 5, 6

  • An increased risk of injuries, such as during a car crash, fall, or drowning.
  • An increased risk of experiencing or perpetrating interpersonal violence (e.g. physical and sexual assault).
  • Alcohol poisoning or overdose, a potentially fatal medical emergency that occurs when your BAC is too high.
  • Dangerous or risky sexual behaviors that can increase your chance of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Harm to almost all bodily systems, including your gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, pulmonary, musculoskeletal, and nervous systems.
  • An increased risk of liver disease and certain types of cancers.
  • An increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
  • An increased risk of harm to your unborn baby if you are pregnant, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth, and sudden infant death syndrome.

Is There Treatment for Binge Drinking?

If you binge drink, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a problem with alcohol. In fact, 9 out of 10 adults who binge drink do not have a severe alcohol use disorder.6

However, binge drinking regularly, may be a sign of an alcohol problem and increase your risk of developing an AUD, especially if you have other risk factors, such as: 6, 7

  • A family history of addiction.
  • Certain comorbid psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, mood disorders, or personality disorders.
  • Co-occurring substance use disorders (i.e., addiction to another substance of abuse in addition to alcohol).
  • our age when you started drinking (people who begin drinking prior to age 15 are at higher risk of developing an AUD later in life).9

Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

If you are interested in seeking treatment for alcohol use or alcohol addiction, you should know that different treatment settings can help best address your individual needs. These settings may include:

  • This is the first step in the recovery process for many. Detox is designed to help you safely and comfortably stop drinking, withdraw from alcohol, and become medically stable so you can enter treatment.
  • Intensive inpatient rehabilitation. You receive treatment for your addiction and 24/7 care from medical staff.
  • Residential treatment. You live onsite and spend most of your day receiving different types of therapies.
  • Partial hospitalization program. You live at home but attend treatment 5–7 days a week between 9 am and 4 pm.
  • Intensive outpatient program. You live at home and travel to a facility for treatment for 9 hours or more a week, typically at least 2 evenings per week.
  • Standard outpatient. You live at home and receive less than 9 hours of treatment a week.
  • Mutual-help groups, which may be used throughout and after treatment.

You will receive different types of therapies in treatment, such as:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps you make positive changes to your thoughts and behaviors.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which teaches you new skills and helps you learn to use them in the real world.
  • Pain management therapy, which can help you develop improved skills to manage pain, which is especially useful during detox.
  • Motivational interviewing to help you figure out what is important to you and help you to achieve your goals.
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT), to help you with withdrawal and to help you stay sober.
  • Depending on the treatment facility and your level of care, you may also receive adjunct therapies such as recreational therapy, art therapy, music therapy, and more.

If you believe that you or a loved one’s binge drinking might be becoming problematic, there is hope in alcohol rehab. Recovery is possible through treatment at facilities like Sunrise House. Call for more information about inpatient treatment in New Jersey as well as our other facilities across the United States.


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