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Binge Drinking: Everything You Need to Know

Binge Drinking: Everything You Need to Know

Binge drinking involves consuming large quantities of alcohol in a short period, increasing the risk of adverse health effects and alcohol use disorder.

If you reserve drinking for the weekends or special occasions, you may not be concerned about your alcohol consumption. However, binge drinking doesn't necessarily mean drinking frequently. In fact, binge drinking is more about the amount of alcohol you consume on the occasions when you do drink. And even when binge drinking is occasional, it can be detrimental to your health and possibly lead to alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the future.

Awareness of what constitutes binge drinking and other excessive drinking behaviors can be eye-opening. If you are concerned that your alcohol consumption may be harming your health, consider medication-assisted treatment for alcohol use. Confidant Health’s online alcohol rehab can help you learn how to eliminate or moderate your alcohol intake to protect your health and well-being and lower your risk for alcohol use disorder. Download our app today to learn more.

What Is Binge Drinking?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes binge drinking as an excessive drinking behavior that involves consuming five or more drinks on an occasion for men or four or more for women. An occasion is specified as a two-hour period. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) goes further in depth, adding that binge drinking brings the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 or higher. In other words, binge drinking consists of drinking to the point that you are too impaired to operate a vehicle legally.

There are three main types of excessive drinking: binge drinking, heavy drinking, and high-intensity drinking.

The NIAAA describes heavy drinking as more than 14 drinks per week for men and more than seven for women. The NIAAA also considers more than four drinks per day for men and more than three for women to qualify as heavy drinking. 

According to a 2018 article in Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, high-intensity drinking is defined as consuming two or three times as much alcohol as a binge drinking episode. Using the above definition of binge drinking, that would equate to 10 or more drinks on an occasion for men and eight or more for women. 

The safest relationship with alcohol is abstinence or moderate drinking. As per the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate drinking is considered two or fewer drinks per day for men and one or fewer for women.

How Common Is Binge Drinking in the US?

Of the three excessive drinking behaviors, binge drinking is by far the most common, dangerous, and costly. The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)for October 15, 2021, using data from a 2018 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey, revealed just how common binge drinking is in the United States:

  • One in six adults reported binge drinking within the past 30 days.
  • 25% of people who binge drank did so at least once a week.
  • The mean or average frequency was 4.6 binge drinking occasions.
  • 25% of people who binge drank had at least eight drinks per occasion.
  • The mean intensity was 5.5 drinks per occasion.
  • Binge drinking was most prevalent among people aged 25 to 34.
  • Men were more likely to binge drink than women.
  • Non-Hispanic white adults had the highest prevalence of binge drinking.
  • People in the Midwest and Northeast were more likely to binge drink than those in other areas of the United States.
  • Increased income was correlated with a higher prevalence of binge drinking.
  • People who were never married or were divorced, separated, or widowed had a higher incidence of binge drinking than those who were currently married.
  • Veterans had a higher prevalence of binge drinking than civilians.
  • Adults with a college degree or more likely to binge drink than those with less than a high school diploma.

The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which included Americans aged 12 and up, found the incidence of binge drinking within the past month to be even higher, at 24%. The breakdown among age groups polled looks like this:

Preteens and Teens

Approximately 4.9% of young people aged 12-17 reported binge drinking in the past month.

Young Adults

The rate of binge drinking among young adults aged 18 to 22 varied depending on whether one was a full-time college student. Those who attended college full-time had a higher incidence of binge drinking, at 33%, while their cohorts who were not full-time students binge drank at a rate of 27.7%

Older Adults

Older adults were the only age group where an increase in binge drinking over the past decade was noted. Of older adults aged 65 and up, 10% reported binge drinking within the past month.

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Factors That Influence the Level of Alcohol Consumption

Why do some people binge drink while others are content with a drink or two once in a while? According to research by the University of Southern California Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, several factors influence the level of a person's alcohol consumption and their ability to drink in moderation or refrain from drinking at all.


USC’s researchers discovered a sort of unspoken agreement or groupthink that impacted how much people will drink and the likelihood of engaging in binge drinking. Generally, if you go out with a group who intend to binge drink or drink for a long period, you are likelier to maintain that same level of excessive drinking.


You may be more likely to binge drink when in an environment with others who are binge drinking, such as at a bar, club, or party. Research at USC found that people who usually did not drink excessively tended to consume more alcohol when around others who were drinking heavily.


Although the research team observed that people's drinking patterns tended to reflect those around them who were binge drinking, a financial influence was also noted. When alcoholic beverages were higher in price, people were less likely to drink heavily, even when in a group of others binge drinking. When alcohol is cheap or easy to access, the likelihood of binge drinking increases.


Mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and trauma may make you more likely to binge drink as self-medication. This is especially likely if you don't have strong coping skills or support to manage your condition or reduce stress.

Health Effects of Binge Drinking

If you reserve drinking for the weekends or special occasions, you may not think you need to be concerned with alcohol use disorder or other consequences besides a nasty hangover. However, binge drinking can adversely affect your health, even if it's just once a week. 

Short-Term Effects

Binge drinking can have negative effects early on, even the first time you engage in this excessive drinking behavior. Some short-term health effects of binge drinking include:

Reduced Immune Function

Your immune function can suffer after just one episode of binge drinking, making you more vulnerable to illness or worsening existing health conditions. 

Depressed Vital Signs

Consuming large quantities of alcohol, a central nervous system depressant, can decrease your body temperature and heart rate and slow your breathing.

Weight Gain

Alcohol contains empty calories, with approximately 150 calories in a regular beer. If you binge drink, you can quickly consume as many calories as would be found in an entire meal. Consuming an extra 600 or more calories each week can lead to weight gain within just a few months. 

Long-Term Effects

Although you may not necessarily develop an alcohol use disorder from binge drinking, the behavior can still be detrimental to your health if continued over the long term. Some potential long-term health effects of binge drinking are:

Chronic Health Problems

Over time, binge drinking can damage your organs and lead to chronic health conditions like liver disease, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and digestive issues.

Cognitive Decline

Long-term binge drinking can damage the brain, affecting memory, recall, learning, and concentration.

Mental Health Conditions

Although binge drinking is often used to self-medicate mental health conditions, it can exacerbate your symptoms over the long term. It can also trigger mental health issues like depression and anxiety. 


Certain types of cancer are more likely in people who binge drink, with approximately 3.5% of cancer deaths in 2009 being attributed to alcohol consumption. Those who drink excessively are at a higher risk of cancer of the head and neck, esophagus, liver, breast, and colon.  

Risks and Dangers of Binge Drinking

Your risk of getting hurt or hurting someone else is elevated when you binge drink since moderate to severe impairment can throw off your judgment and reasoning. Some potential risks and dangers of binge drinking include:

Increased Risk of Unsafe Sexual Behavior

When you drink enough to become impaired, your decision-making skills won’t be as sharp. You’re more likely to engage in unsafe sex, which can lead to unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. You may also be more vulnerable to sexual assault, especially if you have a blackout.

Increased Risk of Accidents or Injury

Binge drinking can make you more likely to participate in activities that can cause bodily harm to yourself or others. Impaired judgment can make you feel more confident operating a vehicle or machinery despite being under the influence of alcohol. This can increase your chances of falling victim to car accidents, burns, falls, drownings, or other life-threatening accidents.

Alcohol Poisoning

Drinking in large amounts in a short period can result in alcohol poisoning or overdose, which can be fatal.

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Binge Drinking and Alcohol Use Disorder

According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, 10.2% of people in the United States had an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2020. Binge drinking can increase the risk of developing AUD, although excessive drinking is not the same as addiction. The CDC found that of the approximately one-third of Americans who drank excessively from 2009-2011, 90% did not qualify as having alcohol dependence.

Alcohol use disorder involves an inability to stop drinking despite the negative consequences of alcohol on one’s health, finances, and relationships. A person who binge drinks may not have the same compulsion to drink and may be able to cut back on drinking or quit without suffering alcohol withdrawal symptoms. However, consuming large amounts of alcohol on occasion can eventually lead to more frequent drinking episodes for some.

Alcohol consumption triggers changes in brain neurotransmitters responsible for positive feelings like relaxation and happiness. By influencing levels of dopamine, GABA, serotonin, and glutamate, alcohol helps you feel euphoric. This can encourage you to drink larger amounts for longer periods or more often to sustain these desirable feelings. Over time, your brain will become dependent on alcohol to produce a positive mood. This is how the cycle of addiction manifests and why you should be cautious if you participate in binge drinking.

How to Prevent Binge Drinking

To protect your health and reduce your risk of developing alcohol use disorder, you should try to reduce episodes of binge drinking. Here are some tips for preventing binge drinking:

Replace alcohol with something else.

Trying to refrain from or reduce drinking is more difficult if you feel deprived. Replacing alcohol with a mocktail or other non-alcoholic beverage you enjoy can be helpful if you are in a social setting where others are drinking. 

Eat a balanced meal when drinking.

The worst thing you can do if you're trying to cut back on binge drinking is to drink on an empty stomach. Eating before, during, and after drinking can help reduce your alcohol consumption. Choosing meals with healthy fats and protein can also slow alcohol absorption.

Make your own drinks.

If you are at home or a friend or family member's house, opt to make your own drinks so you can make them weak. Add just a splash of wine or liquor to club soda or sparkling water to make a very light wine spritzer or cocktail. This will allow you to celebrate with your loved ones while keeping your alcohol consumption in check.

Find activities that don't involve drinking.

If you usually go out for happy hour after work or hang out with friends at bars or parties on the weekends, you can help prevent binge drinking by finding new hobbies that don't revolve around alcohol. You can suggest to your friends or coworkers that you all try something different, like going to the gym, going hiking, catching a movie, going to an escape room, or having dinner at restaurants that do not serve alcohol.

Surround yourself with like-minded people.

If you spend most of your free time with people who prefer to drink excessively, it's going to be tough to moderate your own drinking. Reach out to people who are on the same page as you regarding alcohol consumption and plan fun outings together that support your goals for moderation.

Confidant Health: Helping You End Binge Drinking

Socializing with loved ones doesn't always have to include binge drinking. If you need help moderating your alcohol intake, Confidant Health is here to support you. And if you’re experiencing more serious alcohol-related issues, our online medication-assisted treatment for alcohol use disorder can help you carve your path to recovery. Download our app today to find out more about our virtual alcohol rehab.

This article has been medically reviewed by
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Nurse Practitioner

Erin is a Nurse Practitioner with 8 years of experience in midwifery and women's health. She has spent the past 5 years specializing in the treatment of opioid and alcohol use disorders.

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