As season of binge drinking approaches, know the dangers
Several upcoming seasonal celebrations such as St. Patrick’s Day, spring break and Tigers opening day tend to center around consuming alcohol. Not to cast a shadow on the fun and festivities, but these occasions are sometimes an excuse to overindulge or worse, binge drinking, which has very serious consequences.
Binge drinking is reported by one in six U.S. adults, and those who binge drink tend to do so frequently and with high intensity. At least 80 percent of binge drinkers are not alcohol dependent, yet binge drinking accounts for most deaths from alcohol. Reducing the prevalence of binge drinking among adults is a leading health indicator in Healthy People 2020, released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
WHAT IS BINGE DRINKING?
Binge drinking is defined as five drinks or more for men, or four or more for women on a single occasion. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that binge drinking is more common among adults aged 18-34, however those over 65 binge drink more often. Men binge drink twice as much as women, and more than half of the alcohol consumed in the U.S. is in the form of binge drinks.
WHY DO PEOPLE BINGE DRINK?
The number of individuals who binge drink continues to grow each year. People binge drink for a variety of reasons. Some of these are:
- Forgetting problems
- Having fun and socializing
Binging on anything can be a way to deal with negative emotions in an unhealthy way. The guilt that sometimes comes in the aftermath of a binge can trigger depression which can trigger another binge. Binging releases dopamine which is a “feel good” brain chemical. Some individuals will begin to crave the rush of dopamine.
RISKS AND DANGERS OF BINGE DRINKING
The immediate short term risks of binge drinking include:
- Coordination problems
- Memory loss
- Poor decision making
- Alcohol poisoning
- Unintentional injuries – crashes, falls, burns and drowning
- Intentional injuries – homicide, suicide, domestic violence, sexual assault
- Unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, fetal alcohol syndrome
The longer term effects of binge drinking include:
- Liver disease
- Ulcers and gastrointestinal problems
- Immune system dysfunction
- Brain damage
- Malnourishment and vitamin deficiencies
- Heart disease – high blood pressure, stroke and arrhythmias
- Neurological damage
Chronic binge drinking poses an enormous health risk and even one isolated binge episode can result in severe and irreversible damages. In addition, it can jeopardize education, employment and relationships and increase risks for abuse, sexual assault and of course, drunk driving.
The CDC reports that drinking too much, including binge drinking, cost the U.S. $249 billion in 2010 from losses in productivity, health care, crime and other expenses. Binge drinking was responsible for 77 percent of these costs or $191 billion.
WHAT TO DO?
Recognizing the harmful effects of binge drinking is the first step towards positive changes. Educating yourself and having the facts can have a significant impact on changing behavior. If you or a loved one continue a dangerous pattern of binge drinking, treatment may be necessary. No matter how or why someone binges, there are many treatment options available. It is important to have an assessment that can help determine if the binges are a standalone problem or if they are caused by more serious mental health issues including depression and mood disorders. Being aware of your emotional state can help reduce stress, anxiety and consequent binging.
If you are seeking help, click on the following link to request a call back from a Community Care Services intake therapist. https://comcareserv.org/access-call-request/
Susan Kozak has been a licensed social worker for the past 31 years and currently serves as the executive director of Community Care Services, a position she has held since 2011.