What is Binge Drinking, and How Does it Affect Your Health?

The “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020” recommends that if you drink alcohol at all, you do so in moderation. Still, 1 in 6 U.S. adults binge drink once a week. So what is binge drinking, and how does binge drinking affect your health?

What is binge drinking?

Moderate drinking, as defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture, means up to one drink per day for women, and up to two drinks per day for men. Alcohol should only be consumed by adults of legal drinking age.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration levels to 0.08 g/dl.

Generally speaking:

  • Binge drinking for men is consuming five or more standard drinks over the course of two hours.
  • Binge drinking for women is consuming 4 or more standard drinks in two hours.

A standard drink is:

  • 12 ounces of a 5% ABV beer
  • 8-9 ounces of 7% ABV beer
  • 5 ounces of wine at 12% ABV
  • 1.5 ounces of spirits at 40% ABV or 80 proof

Binge drinking in the United States

  • A recent study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 1 in 6 – or 37 million – U.S. adults binge drink once a week.
  • On average, those 37 million adults drink 7 drinks per binge. This totals 17 billion binge drinks, or 470 binge drinks per binge drinker.
  • More than half of all binge drinks are consumed by adults over the age of 35. Adults ages 18 to 34 were more likely to binge drink than adults over 35, however.
  • Men binge drink more than women. 4 in 5 binge drinks are consumed by men.
  • Binge drinking is more prevalent in lower income households and households with lower levels of education.

Why is binge drinking bad?

There are immediate as well as long term health risks associated with binge drinking.

According to the CDC, binge drinking is responsible for more than half of the 88,000 alcohol attributable deaths each year. 

Binge drinking can lead to dangerous behavior, violence, accidents, injuries, and alcohol poisoning.

Over time, heavy drinking can lead to cancers, heart disease, and liver failure. It can cause brain damage and mental health problems such as depression and alcohol dependence.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines heavy alcohol use as 5 or more days of binge drinking within a month.

Learn the signs of alcoholism

Alcoholism is a disease. Know the warning signs of alcoholism, and know when to seek help.

  • You develop a tolerance to the effects of alcohol.
  • Drinking alcohol gets in the way of your daily life.
  • You have strong urges to drink alcohol.
  • You spend a lot of time drinking, or recovering from drinking alcohol.
  • It’s difficult for you to quit drinking even though you want to.
  • You experience withdrawal symptoms when you don’t have alcohol.
  • Drinking alcohol puts you in unsafe situations.
  • You lose control of yourself when you drink.

Talk to your primary care physician about your concerns.

For more information on alcoholism, visit the resources below.