What is Binge Drinking?

What is Binge Drinking?

People sometimes talk about “going on a binge” or binge drinking, but what does it mean to binge drink? And, how is binge drinking different than drinking in general?


What is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as a pattern of drinking that quickly brings one’s blood alcohol content or BAC to 0.08 (the legal limit) or higher. In most cases, the number of drinks required for this to occur is approximately four for women and five for men. When someone binge drinks, alcohol is consumed quickly, leading to rapid intoxication. To meet the definition of binge drinking, drinks must be consumed within two hours or less.


Clearly, understanding binge drinking also requires knowledge of what constitutes “a drink.” Not all alcoholic beverages are created equally, and some contain far more alcohol than others. Many people are surprised when they learn what a standard drink is compared to common perception. The total ounces of liquid in your glass does not necessarily equal the amount of alcohol the drink contains. This is because different types of alcohol have different alcohol contents. In the United States, one “standard” drink contains approximately 14 grams of pure alcohol.


So what does that mean? 14 grams of alcohol would be found in:

  • One 5 ounce glass of wine (12% alc/vol)
  • One 12 ounce regular beer (5% alc/vol)
  • One 8-9 oz glass of malt liquor (7% alc/vol)
  • One 1.5 ounce shot (40% alc/vol)


According to data from the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted in 2019, more than 66 million (24% of the American population) over age 12 engaged in binge drinking in the previous 30 days. Binge drinking occurs across all age groups and genders.


What are the Signs of Binge Drinking?

Drinking of any kind has varying effects from person to person. For some people, one drink may be enough to cause alterations in your physical and cognitive capabilities. Others who may have a higher tolerance to the effects of alcohol (or a larger body size) may require more alcohol to feel its effects. If you are concerned about your drinking patterns or habits, you should seek help to overcome alcohol dependency at a treatment enter like Brightside Recovery.


A key difference between having a drink with dinner and binge drinking is the speed at which alcohol is consumed. When someone binge drinks, they do not allow the body enough time to process alcohol through their system. This rapid consumption of alcohol may lead someone who engages in binge drinking behaviors to “appear” intoxicated.


Other signs of binge drinking include drinking early in the day, drinking more frequently, not being able to slow or stop drinking, needing more alcohol to achieve the “same effect,” drinking to the point of “blacking out,” experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, and choosing alcohol over important obligations or responsibilities. When someone binge drinks often, you may also notice they can drink substantial amounts of alcohol without feeling its effects or appearing intoxicated in any way. This level of tolerance to the effects of alcohol may you should seek help to overcome a harmful and potentially dangerous relationship with alcohol.


Does Binge Drinking Mean You Are an Alcoholic?

While there may seem to be little (or no) difference between binge drinking and alcoholism, it is important to note that there are differences. Not everyone who struggles with alcoholism (also called an alcohol use disorder) engages in binge drinking behaviors. Similarly, not everyone who binge drinks is an alcoholic.


Although some mental health professionals describe both alcohol addiction and binge drinking as substance use disorders, there are distinctions. Binge drinking is measured by the number of drinks someone has in a short time (2 hours). Alcoholism, on the other hand, is not characterized by a specific amount of alcohol in a particular timeframe. Alcoholism is described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a chronic, relapsing condition. Someone with alcoholism cannot control when or how much they drink. Also, they have developed a tolerance to the effects of alcohol and will continue to drink more frequently and at higher amounts despite often understanding the potential for harmful and dangerous consequences.


While some people who engage in binge drinking will develop alcoholism, it is not the case for everyone. If you have acknowledged a harmful relationship with alcohol or worry about a friend or loved one, seeking help at an alcohol addiction treatment program to overcome your dependency on alcohol is the safest and most effective way to get sober. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you on your journey to recovery.

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