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What Is Binge Drinking? Symptoms, Effects and Prevention

Written by Theresa Valenzky

& Medically Reviewed by Jenni Jacobsen, LSW

Medically Reviewed

Up to Date

This article was reviewed by a medical professional to guarantee the delivery of accurate and up-to- date information. View our research policy.

Last Updated - 6/17/2022

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Binge drinking is a destructive pattern of consuming a significant amount of alcohol in a short time. This kind of alcohol abuse can lead to dire consequences. Alcohol addiction may be one of the outcomes. The majority of binge drinkers are young adults. Because research shows that younger people who binge drink are more likely to develop alcoholism, the risk is greater for young adults who engage in binge drinking.

Alcoholism is a disease that can cause an uncontrollable urge to drink, and in clinical settings, it’s referred to as an alcohol use disorder. As a result of drinking alcohol excessively, individuals with alcohol addictions can lose relationships, jobs and good health. If binge drinking is an issue for you or a loved one, you may be at risk of an alcohol use disorder. Fortunately, treatment is available.

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Binge Drinking Facts: What You Need To Know

Binge drinking happens when a person’s alcohol consumption results in a 0.08 BAC or higher. Typically, this means four or more drinks in two hours for women and five or more drinks in two hours for men. According to the CDC, 25% of adults in America currently participate in binge drinking at least weekly. Here are some additional binge drinking facts:

  • Binge drinking is the most common among those aged 18–34. 
  • Every year, 80,000 deaths are caused by binge drinking in America.
  • Binge drinking makes up 90% of all underage drinking.
  • Men are twice as likely to binge drink than women.

Effects of Binge Drinking

One of the biggest dangers of binge drinking is that it can lead to alcohol addiction. However, there are many more dangers associated with binge drinking. Binge drinking can risk a person’s relationships with family members, friends and employers. Binge drinking can also cause legal troubles. Altogether, binge drinking can harm a person’s quality of life.

Short-Term Health Effects of Binge Drinking

There are many short-term negative effects of alcohol abuse, alcohol use disorder (AUD) and binge drinking, including:

  • Drowsiness
  • Distorted hearing and vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired judgment
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Lack of coordination
  • Impaired balance
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Arrest

Long-Term Effects of Binge Drinking

There are also many long-term negative effects of alcohol abuse, AUD and binge drinking, including:

  • Unintentional injuries like broken bones, head injuries and bruises
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Babies born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and other disorders
  • Relationship problems
  • Financial issues
  • Legal issues
  • Liver disease
  • Unintended pregnancies
  • Cancer
  • Loss of employment
  • Jail time

Causes of Binge Drinking

There are several potential causes of binge drinking, which can include social and emotional factors and environmental influences. 

Social Factors

Given the widespread nature of binge drinking, social influences can contribute significantly to this behavior. People who are around others who engage in binge drinking may feel pressured to drink to fit in with the crowd. 

Emotional Triggers

For some people, binge drinking can occur due to emotional triggers like stress, anxiety or sadness. Alcohol may temporarily relieve negative emotions and help a person temporarily feel better. 

Environmental Influences

A person’s environment can also contribute to binge drinking. For instance, college students, who live away from home and have easy access to alcohol, may be more likely to binge drink. In addition, chaotic family environments can increase the likelihood of binge drinking. This can include families in which alcohol misuse is normalized. 

Binge Drinking in Specific Populations

Some age groups may be at increased risk of binge drinking based on unique factors present in the respective groups. For instance, adolescents, college students and older adults tend to have specific risk factors that make them more vulnerable to binge drinking. 

Adolescents and Teens

Teens and adolescents face unique risk factors for binge drinking. Teens may drink because of social motives like peer pressure or to cope with stress or mental health problems like depression. Teens have also been found to binge drink because they enjoy the sensations associated with drinking. 

College Students

Research suggests that 40% of college students are regular binge drinkers. This population’s high rates of binge drinking can be attributed to the culture and norms on college campuses. Peers may influence each other to drink, and the sports culture on college campuses often glorifies binge drinking, with many students engaging in game-day rituals that involve excessive alcohol consumption. 

Older Adults

Studies have found that just over 10% of older adults are binge drinkers. Among older adults, men, African Americans and cannabis/tobacco users are more likely to be binge drinkers. Those with chronic health conditions are less likely to binge drink. 

The Social Impact of Binge Drinking

Unfortunately, binge drinking has negative consequences that impact those who binge drink and the rest of society. Some of these consequences create a threat to public health and safety. 

Economic Impact

Excessive alcohol consumption has a devastating economic impact, costing the U.S. billions of dollars annually. These costs are from lost workplace productivity, healthcare expenses and costs associated with prosecuting alcohol-related offenses in the criminal justice system. 

Public Health Consequences

Binge drinking also contributes to widespread public health problems, including the transmission of STIs, increased risk of fetal alcohol syndrome and higher risk of health problems like cancer, stroke, heart disease and liver disease. 

Criminal and Legal Consequences

Binge drinking is associated with crime. For instance, it increases the risk of domestic violence, sexual assault and homicide. It is also linked to motor vehicle crashes from driving under the influence, which is a crime in and of itself. 

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How To Stop Binge Drinking: Identifying the Problem

Before you talk to a loved one about their binge drinking or address your own, you should know the signs of drinking problems. If you or a loved one exhibit these symptoms and signs, you may have a drinking problem:

  • Spending a significant amount of time drinking
  • Giving up other hobbies or activities in favor of alcohol use
  • Drinking to the point that it places one in danger (such as driving under the influence or blacking out)
  • Being unable to cut back on drinking
  • Consuming excessively large amounts of alcohol
  • Drinking even when it interferes with functioning at work
  • Continued alcohol consumption, even when it causes relationship problems, such as fights about one’s alcohol use 
  • Showing a high tolerance for alcohol, so that one must drink more and more to get a “buzz”
  • Suffering from withdrawal side effects like headache or tremors when not drinking 
  • Continuing to drink, even when it causes a health issue like high blood pressure 
  • Having strong alcohol cravings (for instance, drinking first thing in the morning because of severe cravings)

Awareness and Education

Awareness and education is one of the most important ways to end binge drinking. Because heavy drinking is so normalized, especially on college campuses and in social settings, people may not be entirely aware of the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption. Primary care providers, schools and workplaces can provide education regarding what constitutes binge drinking and what is considered low-risk drinking. 

Community Intervention

In some cases, community-wide intervention may be necessary to address binge drinking. For example, local advocacy groups and law enforcement agencies can hold community awareness days to discuss the dangers of alcohol misuse and to offer information about safe drinking. 

Professional Treatment

Finally, some people who develop an alcohol use disorder (AUD) may require professional treatment to help them cut back on binge drinking. Treatment for alcohol addiction typically involves a combination of individual and group therapy, support group meetings and medications to manage withdrawal and cravings. For those drinking heavily for a long period, treatment often begins with a medical detox program to manage withdrawal symptoms safely.

Treatment for Binge Drinking in Washington

Once you have determined that you or someone you love has a drinking problem, the next step is to look into treatment options. If you are recovering from alcohol addiction, you always want to begin your journey with medically-assisted detox. If you stop drinking suddenly, there can be extremely uncomfortable or even dangerous withdrawal symptoms. It’s important that you have the necessary medical supervision while going through the detox process.

After medical detox, you need to enroll in a treatment program to treat the psychological, emotional and mental aspects of your alcohol addiction. Once you have completed a treatment program, it’s important to attend regular recovery meetings with a group like Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery to ensure your recovery lasts in the long term.

In the Pacific Northwest, The Recovery Village Ridgefield is the perfect place to receive treatment for alcohol addiction. Convenient to Tacoma and Seattle, Washington, and Portland and Eugene, Oregon, The Recovery Village Ridgefield offers medically assisted detox, residential treatment programs, partial hospitalization programs, outpatient treatment programs and aftercare. Reach out to our Recovery Advocates today if you are considering treatment for your alcohol addiction.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

View Sources

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” 2020. Accessed July 5, 2023. 

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Drinking Levels Defined.” Accessed July 5, 2023. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Binge Drinking.” November 14, 2022. Accessed July 5, 2023. 

Laghi, Fiorenzo; Bianchi, Dora; Pompili, Sara; Lonigro, Antonia; Baiocco, Roberto. “Binge eating and binge drinking behaviors: the role of family functioning.” Psychology, Health, & Medicine, 2021. Accessed July 5, 2023. 

Pompili, Sara; Laghi, Fiorenzo. “Binge eating and binge drinking among adolescents: The role of drinking and eating motives.” Journal of Health Psychology, 2017. Accessed July 6, 2023. 

Lannoy, Séverine; Dormal, Valérie; Billieux, Joël; Maurage, Pierre. “Enhancement motivation to drink predicts binge drinking in adolescence: a longitudinal study in a community sample.” The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 2019. Accessed July 6, 2023.

Mikkilineni, Sai Datta; Cranmer, Gregory A.; Ash, Erin; Denham, Bryan E. “Collegiate Student-Athletes as Health Advocates: The Role of Issue and Source Involvement in Students’ Information Processing about Binge Drinking.” Communication and Sport, January 19, 2023. Accessed July 6, 2023. 

Han, Benjamin H.; Moore, Alison A.; Ferris, Rosie; Palamar Joseph J. “Binge Drinking Among Older Adults in the United States, 2015 to 2017.” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, October 2019. Accessed July 6, 2023.