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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

May 29, 2024

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While binge drinking and alcoholism are not necessarily synonymous, this phenomenon is both widespread and potentially damaging in many ways. 

Data from the 2019 NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health) shows that 26% of all over-18 reported binge drinking in the previous month. 

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Among college students, this proportion of people binge drinking is even higher. The same data shows that 33% of full-time college students reported at least one episode of drinking in the previous month. 

Not only can this type of drinking trigger negative short-term outcomes, but it can also lead to myriad long-term health problems. So, what is binge drinking, exactly? 

Binge Drinking Definition

This type of drinking is characterized by drinking alcohol quickly and systematically. Rapid intoxication is the goal of binge drinking, often gamified in the form of drinking games. This can be a precursor for problem drinking and alcoholism. While there are treatment programs, like our Orange County alcohol rehab, if you notice a binge drinking pattern developing, it is best to take some time away from the bottle.

The CDC refers to binge drinking as a public health problem that is “serious but preventable”. 

For a more specific definition of this pattern of immoderate drinking, we need to explore the volume of alcohol intake as well as blood alcohol concentration levels. 

How Many Drinks is Considered “Binge Drinking”?

The most common benchmarks for binge drinking are as follows: 

  • If a man has 5 or more standard drinks in a 2-hour period
  • If a man has 4 or more standard drinks in a 2-hour period

For the purposes of this definition, a standard drink is any of the following: 

  • 5oz glass of wine
  • 12oz beer
  • 1.5oz single shot of liquor

NIAAA (the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) offers a more precise definition of binge drinking, specifically alcohol consumption that raises your blood alcohol concentration levels beyond the legal limit (0.08 grams per deciliter).

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How to Quit Binge Drinking in 5 Steps

If you’re trying to figure out how to quit binge drinking, there are a few steps you can take to cut down on your alcohol intake and start living a healthier lifestyle. 

However, if you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol addiction or dependence, it’s important that you reach out to an addiction recovery center for a safe detox and withdrawal procedure. Moderate to severe alcohol dependence can be dangerous and even fatal to attempt on your own. Only in cases of mild alcohol use disorder should this be attempted without medical supervision for your own safety. 

That being said, here are 5 steps to learn how to quit binge drinking:

  1. Acknowledge the issue: Address and admit to yourself and/or others that you have a problem, and recognize the ways in which it’s negatively affecting your life. 
  2. Set realistic and attainable goals: Create a plan to start reducing your intake with measurable goals. This way, you can gradually reduce your drinking or quit altogether (do not quit cold turkey if you drink large amounts of alcohol frequently as this can cause withdrawals. Seek medical intervention if you’re concerned.)
  3. Find a support system: bring trusted friends and family into your process to help hold you accountable and provide support. You can also find a local addiction support group to help you. 
  4. Identify triggers and coping mechanisms: Pinpoint situations where you find yourself especially tempted to binge drink, and come up with healthier alternatives and activities to replace drinking. 
  5. Celebrate achievements: Make sure to celebrate your successes and milestones on this journey, and reward yourself for your achievements. 

Note: Do not attempt to quit drinking cold turkey if you have a moderate to severe alcohol problem, as physical dependence can form and cause dangerous withdrawal symptoms. If you’re unsure of whether you’d qualify for these levels of use, speak with your doctor or a qualified addiction recovery counselor to help you decide what will be safest for you.

Why You Should Quit Binge Drinking

If you frequently binge drink, you are exposing yourself to a battery of negative consequences. 

Alcohol abuse can trigger many adverse health effects, both physical and mental. These include: 

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Hypertension
  • Liver disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Neurological damage
  • Diabetes
  • Heart attack
  • Cirrhosis
  • Stroke
  • Increased risk of some cancers
  • Compromised immune system
  • Co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Mood changes
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Memory issues

Binge drinking at college can also lead to the following:

  • Impaired judgment leading to risky behaviors
  • Increased chance of injuries
  • Heightened risk of assault
  • Poor performance in class
  • More chance of using other substances, including tobacco and illicit drugs
  • Possible legal ramifications

If you continue to engage in this pattern of alcohol abuse without ever considering how to stop binge drinking, there is every chance this intemperate consumption could lead to alcohol use disorder. SAMHSA data shows that the younger you are at the point of starting drinking, the higher the likelihood you will develop a dependence on alcohol.

Is Binge Drinking Alcoholism?

While not everyone who binge drinks is alcoholic, data shows that binge drinking can heighten your risk of developing alcohol use disorder. 

Most people who binge drink are not dependent on alcohol. That said, CDC data shows that 90% of people reporting drinking heavily also reported binge drinking during the previous month. 

If you recognize you are binge drinking, you may find yourself concerned about developing alcohol use disorder. If so, try asking yourself the following questions used to diagnose alcohol use disorder: 

  1. Do you have cravings for alcohol?
  2. Have you lost interest in normal activities?
  3. Have you experienced physical or mental health problems due to your alcohol intake?
  4. Are you spending large chunks of time drinking and recovering from the effects of alcohol abuse?
  5. Has tolerance built so you need more alcohol to achieve the same effects?
  6. Do you find yourself drinking more than intended, or drinking for longer than intended?
  7. Have you tried and failed to moderate or discontinue using alcohol?
  8. Has drinking alcohol led you to behave recklessly or dangerously – driving under the influence, for example?      
  9. Is your alcohol intake causing problems at home, work, or school?
  10. Are you failing to meet your responsibilities as a result of alcohol abuse?
  11. If you stop drinking, do you experience withdrawal symptoms?

These are the criteria set out in DSM-5 and used to diagnose alcohol use disorder as mild, moderate, or severe, depending on how many criteria you satisfy. While there is no substitute for a professional assessment and diagnosis, answering these questions honestly should give you some insight into whether binge drinking may be progressing into full-blown alcohol use disorder. 

Binge Drinking in College Students

In the United States, binge drinking occurs most frequently in the under-30s, according to this study. The same study shows that despite the younger demographic binge drinking more often, over half of all binge drinks are consumed by the over-35s. 

Underage drinkers also frequently binge drink. Most under-21s who report consuming alcohol also report binge drinking, according to the CDC’s MMWR (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report). 

Between 50% and 60% of college students who report consuming alcohol report binge drinking, too. 

The first month of freshman year is the period of highest risk for drinking. Peer pressure and fraternity house initiations are all part of the college experience for many students in the US.

Binge Drinking Health Risks

You may think that the health risks of binge drinking every once in a while are less than drinking every day, but some studies disagree. 

Evidence suggests that binge drinking is even more damaging to your liver than daily consumption of alcohol, and those who engage in regular binge drinking are at a higher risk for alcohol-induced cirrhosis, which is a scarring and deterioration of the liver that can result in cancer and even death if not addressed. 

The study found that the risk of this dangerous liver disease is increased 6x among binge drinkers, especially when combined with existing health issues & genetic factors like type 2 diabetes. 

It’s important to understand the risks associated with binge drinking and to realize it’s not only how often you drink, but more importantly how much you drink at one time that should be considered. 

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Get Binge Drinking Rehab at Renaissance Recovery

If you or a loved one’s binge drinking has gotten out of control and you are looking for treatment or recovery resources to learn how to stop binge drinking, our team at Renaissance Recovery is here to help you.

At Renaissance’s alcohol rehab in California, clients will learn more about their addiction problems as well as any underlying issues that may be the root cause or a contributing factor for their alcohol use. During treatment, clients will learn how to live their new sober lifestyle and develop strategies to help them avoid relapse in the future.

If you are interested in learning more about how Renaissance can help you and what it might cost, contact our team today. We can walk you through the process and determine how your insurance can help cover the cost of treatment.

While this type of drinking does not necessarily always lead to alcohol use disorder, sustained and habitual patterns of drinking are liable to bring about adverse outcomes over time. 

When you complete one of our evidence-based treatment programs for alcohol use disorder, you’ll leave our facility with all the aftercare you need in place for sustained sobriety. We appreciate that recovery is a process not an isolated event, and we’re here to support you every step of the way. To get started, call admissions right now at 866.330.9449.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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