Binge drinking of alcohol is the habit of drinking too much alcohol (e.g. beer, wine or liquor) in a short period of time. You may have a drinking problem if you consume more than 5 drinks of alcohol for men and 4 drinks for women in less than 2 hours. Binge drinking has negative effects on you and those around you. While those who binge drink don’t necessarily have an alcohol addiction, regular binge drinking can lead to it, especially with younger drinkers. Binge drinking can cause mental health problems (memory and learning problems, depression), heart and/or liver conditions, lead to problems in pregnancy and after birth of the child, various forms of cancer, violence, accidents, and injuries. Being drunk also increases the chance of having unsafe sex, which can lead to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or unplanned pregnancy.
A drink of alcohol is equivalent to two-thirds of a can of beer (20cl) or about a quarter bottle of beer. A glass of wine (15cl) counts as two drinks! Try and control your alcohol consumption by planning beforehand. Ask for support from friends and family when you struggle to do so. If this does not work, you can speak to your healthcare provider and/or join a professional support group such as Alcohol Anonymous (AA) and House of Refuge (HOR).
What makes some of us crave alcohol so much, even when we know it is bad for us? Alcohol triggers the reward system in our brains by stimulating the production of dopamine, the so called "feel good chemical". Dopamine can be addictive.
Five causes of binge drinking are:
- The belief that drinking alcohol is beneficial to you, such as lowering your shyness, making social interactions easier, giving a sense of social bonding with peers who also binge drink.
- Not fully understanding that rapid drinking will lead to drunkenness. Many binge drinkers underestimate their level of intoxication.
- Drinking is more fun when you consume alcohol along with friends. When your peers also binge drink you might feel the pressure to follow them.
- Experiencing challenges or difficulties in life. This may lead to binge drinking to cope with the situation.
- Alcohol being easily accessible in your community and binge drinking being a common thing around you.
If you feel that you drink too much alcohol (at a time) or you may actually start becoming addicted to alcohol, talk to your healthcare provider about medications that can reduce withdrawal symptoms and help reduce cravings, as well as other treatments.
Binge drinking at the early stages may not look so serious. However, visit your healthcare provider if you notice that:
- Binge drinking affects your daily activities.
- It becomes very hard for you to stop or control the quantity of alcohol you take.
- You are suffering from mental health symptoms such as memory loss, learning problems or depression.
- You are suffering from physical health issues such as inflammation of vital organs (pancreas, stomach, liver, lungs), high blood pressure or irregular heartbeat.
- Drinking makes you want to injure yourself or others.
You can choose not to drink more than the recommended quantity of alcohol or not to drink at all. See the self-care for tips on how you may manage your alcohol intake. If you are unable to keep to this limit, you can get help from your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider can recommend medication or group support if they think this will help you.
Binge drinking can be fatal and may lead to an alcohol addiction. It is therefore important to take steps to cut down or abstain from alcohol before it seriously impacts your life.
- Make a plan and put it in writing. Write down all the reasons you need to slow down or quit drinking alcohol. Note the possible consequences of continued drinking, such as alcohol poisoning, traffic accidents, unplanned pregnancy, sexual assault, arrest, financial problems, health problems, and the like. Review your list often, especially if you feel tempted to drink.
- If you’re planning to slow down rather than stop drinking, keep track in a diary of how much you drink, where you are, the people you are with and your emotions when drinking. This helps you understand your triggers, and to avoid drinking mindlessly.
- Change your environment. Triggers that lead to binge drinking often include places, people and events. Avoid certain bars, parties or activities where a lot of alcohol is drunk and avoid spending time with specific people or groups who consider drinking lots of alcohol as fun.
- Rely on family and friends for support. Share your problem with people around you who support your effort to cut back on stop drinking alcohol.
- Your best approach may be to stop drinking alcohol altogether. It may be easier to abstain from alcohol, rather than trying to cut down.
- Educate yourself about binge drinking and alcohol addiction. There is a lot of information you can find online.
- Try and understand why you drink so much. See a therapist to help you sort out your feelings, and to learn ways to cope with alcohol.
- Exercise regularly, eat healthy foods (e.g. lots of fruit and vegetables), participate in sports or hobbies and attend events that are alcohol-free.
- If you can’t stop on your own, speak to your healthcare provider who can recommend a therapist and/or support group.
- Your doctor may prescribe sleep medicine, vitamins or medicine to help you quit.
Binge drinking becomes more difficult to treat or manage when you become addicted. Trying to stop binge drinking may be tough at the beginning. However, once you start reducing your use of alcohol, you will notice an improvement in your health. Rely on friends and family to support you during this time.