The very real dangers of binge drinking

Guest Column
Jeffrey Meyers
ASAC Certified Prevention Specialist

     When picturing St. Patrick’s Day festivities, it’s likely you’ll think of alcohol, and perhaps lots of it. This is for good reason, as this holiday commemorating the patron saint of Ireland is regarded as one of the biggest drinking days of the year. While adult consumption of alcohol can be done safely and responsibly, reasonable drinking guidelines are often overlooked in favor of excessive drinking, known as binge drinking.

     But what is binge drinking? Generally speaking, this means drinking five or more drinks within a two-hour period for men, or four or more drinks for women. Binge drinking does not necessarily mean a person is alcohol dependent, or would have a diagnosable substance use disorder, but rather indicates an irresponsible drinking pattern that could harm yourself or potentially others.

     Binge drinking may be more common than you think. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention find that 1 in 6 Americans engages in binge drinking an average of four times a month. The age group most prone to binge drinking are those aged 18-24 at 26.1 percent, though even middle-aged persons report a rate just short of 16 percent. Statistics show binge drinking being particularly high on St. Patrick’s Day, with more than two-thirds of drivers involved in fatal accidents on this day alone having a BAC above the legal limit. Crashes on St. Patrick’s Day occur at a rate of once every 46 minutes.

     The risks of binge drinking are hard to overstate. The important effects of alcohol can increase your risk for injuries from accidents, and has been linked to an increased rate of violence, including sexual assault. Binge drinking also is associated with cognitive problems including memory and learning impairment, which may be permanent. Binge drinkers also face elevated cancer risks in addition to a whole host of other chronic diseases including liver and heart disease.

     How do we avoid binge drinking? For some, abstinence may be the best choice. This is especially true for those who have had alcohol dependence, those who are underage, persons taking certain medications, and those with medical conditions that may become exacerbated with any alcohol use. Others may wish to follow risk-drinking guidelines. Low-risk alcohol consumption is generally considered to consist of no more then three drinks on any given day, totaling no more than 14 drinks in a week. A “drink” would be 12 ounces of beer with 5 percent alcohol content, or 1 ounce for more forms of liquor. Above all, be aware of how your drinking may be affecting you. Low-risk is not the same as no risk, so taking precautions like safe transportation while consuming any alcohol is always a good idea.



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