Most service members and military family members drink responsibly and recognize the dangers of alcohol abuse. Yet there are some who regularly consume large quantities of alcohol in a short amount of time for the purpose of getting drunk. This is binge drinking. Binge drinkers can be any age, but young adults between the ages of 18 and 34, especially young men, are statistically more likely to binge when they drink. Many factors contribute to the prevalence of binge drinking among young people.
- It lowers inhibitions making it seem easier to connect with others and fit in.
- It's a socially acceptable activity for many peer groups: everyone else is doing it.
- It's a way to assert independence from parents - especially true for those entering college or joining the military after high school.
- It provides an escape from the routine of daily life and an opportunity to forget one's self for a while.
- It offers an element of risk, which can be thrilling and promotes bonding with a group of peers.
- It's encouraged by liquor stores and alcoholic beverage companies that make drinking seem essential to having fun and by bars that target young people with low-priced drink specials or drinking games.
Unfortunately, too many young adults who binge drink don't see the risks of extreme intoxication. Because they don't usually get drunk every day, they don't feel dependent on alcohol. People in their late teens and twenties are more likely to feel invincible, like nothing bad - a drunk-driving arrest or an alcohol overdose, for example - will happen to them. And they don't tend to connect their binge drinking to the long-term health consequences of excessive alcohol consumption.
Definition of binge drinking
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that brings a person's blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 grams percent or above. This typically happens when men consume five or more drinks, and when women consume four or more drinks, in about two hours. The CDC estimates that the average number of drinks consumed in a typical binge is eight.
Five to eight standard drinks consumed in two hours or less can cause significant impairments from intoxication. A person with 0.08 to 0.16 BAC will likely have trouble with speech, memory, coordination, balance and driving skills. He or she may also display poor judgment and decision making, as well as aggressive behavior. Between 0.16 and 0.30 BAC, a person may show the warning signs of alcohol overdose, including vomiting and loss of consciousness. Continuing to drink after BAC has reached 0.30 can result in alcohol poisoning, a life-threatening situation caused by so much alcohol in the bloodstream that basic life-support functions begin to shut down.
Learn more about the physical effects of binge drinking from Alcohol Overdose: The Dangers of Drinking Too Much, a publication of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Binge drinking and risky behavior
Well before BAC reaches the level of alcohol poisoning, intoxication can have many unfortunate outcomes for binge drinkers and those who come into contact with them. These are just a few of the unintended consequences that can result from being so intoxicated that behavior is affected by impaired judgment, motor skills and decision-making abilities:
- Accidental injuries or death from car crashes, falls, burns or drowning
- Harm to others as a result of fights, sexual assaults, domestic violence or irresponsible handling of weapons
- Unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases from irresponsible sexual behavior
- Loss of valuable property such as a damaged car, stolen wallet or dropped phone
- Loss of financial assets through reckless spending while intoxicated
- Failure to report for duty, missed classes or poor job performance due to hangovers
For an unvarnished look at the consequences of excessive drinking, including behavior that results in embarrassment, shame and ridicule by others, be sure to explore That Guy. It's a multi-media campaign, funded by the Department of Defense, which uses realistic situations and humor to discourage binge drinking among young service members.
A person who continues to drink when there are clear signs of significant impairment from intoxication is risking a potentially deadly overdose known as alcohol poisoning. The college student or other young person who passes out after binge drinking and never wakes up is a regularly occurring story in the news. Alcohol poisoning can result in death from heart failure, low body temperature or breathing that just stops. People can also die from choking on their own vomit or severe dehydration from vomiting. If a victim of extreme alcohol poisoning survives, there can still be permanent brain damage.
It is important to know the signs of alcohol poisoning and get immediate medical help if you see that someone is extremely confused, in a stupor or unable to wake up, is vomiting, having seizures, having trouble breathing or has cold and clammy or bluish skin. Call 911 or take the person to an emergency room. Do not put a passed-out person to bed and expect that he or she will sleep it off. And do not try remedies like hot coffee, cold showers or walking the person around. They have no effect on alcohol poisoning.
Tips for safe drinking
No one has to binge drink when socializing with friends, even if everyone else is doing it. Many people know and use these techniques to make sure their drinking is safe while still having fun.
- Be sure to eat before you drink.
- Alternate your drinks with water or soda.
- Identify in advance the number of drinks you will have and stop at that point.
- Know the early signs of intoxication (mild speech, memory, attention, coordination or balance impairments) and stop drinking when you feel any of them.
- Have a safe transportation plan and never get in a car with a drunk driver.
- Be supportive of your friends who choose not to drink.
If you think you have a problem with binge drinking and feel like you can't stop, help is available. A Military OneSource consultant (800-342-9647) can work with you to assess your problem, review options for getting help and provide appropriate referrals.