When discussing binge drinking, it is important to differentiate between moderate and binge amounts of alcohol. Experts define moderate drinking as up to two drinks per day for men or one drink per day for women. Defining binge drinking is not as straightforward. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as consuming quantities that raise the blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 g/dL, which is the legal intoxication level in the United States.

Time Frame

One of the definitive factors of binge drinking is that it occurs in a relatively short span of time. Because binge drinking is not formally defined by the American Psychiatric Association, there are no strict diagnostic criteria. That said, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health defines it as five or more drinks for men or four drinks for women on the same occasion at least one time in the past month.

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A Bigger Problem

Binge drinking in and of itself is not enough to warrant a diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder, but people who binge drink regularly are far more likely to receive an alcohol use disorder diagnosis than those who do not. That said, no single degree of alcohol consumption leads to a diagnosis of alcoholism. Instead, the development of these disorders depends on how alcohol use affects a person's life, including how well they control it and if they can still function normally.

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Who Binge Drinks?

The statistics related to binge drinking are significant. In the U.S., one in six adults binge drinks roughly four times a month, consuming about seven drinks each time. People between the ages of 18 and 34 binge drink the most, and it is twice as common in males as in females. Of adults in the U.S. who admit to drinking excessively, 90 percent report occurrences in the last 30 days.

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Binge drinking can lead to serious complications. To drink enough to bring the blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 g/dL, men must consume five or more drinks in about two hours, and women around four. That in itself is costly for the body in the short term, but there are big-picture things to consider as well. In 2010, binge drinking costs the U.S. about $249 billion in health care costs, lost productivity, criminal justice expenses, and more.

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Effects on Daily Life

Any type or amount of alcohol can have a profound effect on the body and mind. People who binge drink habitually often have poor school or work performance, and relationship problems with friends and family are more common. Binge drinking also carries with it an increased risk of accidents due to impairment and legal issues because of reckless or risky behavior.

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Effects On the Body

Binge drinking's physical dangers include an increased risk of developing cancer, liver damage, kidney problems, reproductive issues, high blood pressure, stroke, dementia, depression, anxiety, memory problems, and more. People who binge drink regularly are also more likely to be victims of crimes.

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What Does Binge Drinking Look Like?

A lot of people who binge drink do not realize that they have a problem. They might think that going out for a happy hour and drinking excessively every Friday is normal or that they do not have an alcohol problem because they do not drink every day. Drinking too much, even sporadically, can be a sign of significant problems. This is especially true if someone goes out intending to have a drink or two and ends up having five or six.

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Red Flags

Some warning signs can highlight potential binge drinking problems. If friends and family express concern about a persons' drinking habits, it is important to hear them out and listen objectively. Those close to someone with an alcohol problem often realize it long before the person sees or admits the issue. Other signs include not meeting obligations due to alcohol use or having blackouts while drinking.

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Anyone who suspects that their alcohol use is a problem is encouraged to consult with a mental health professional with experience in addiction. These doctors or other medical practitioners can carry out an assessment and help clients determine how to proceed. They may recommend one or more of several treatment options, depending on the factors of each case. Medications may help reduce the urge to drink and behavioral therapy and support groups are also beneficial.

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People who realize early that they have a problem with binge drinking and address it may be able to stop binge drinking before other problems develop. A large percentage of people who binge drink are teenagers and young adults. If the behavior continues into adulthood, the risk for developing severe alcohol use disorders or permanent damage increases.

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