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Binge Drinking and Alcohol Use Disorder: The Difference and Treatment Options

If someone is showing signs of an alcohol overdose, call 911 immediately.

Social gatherings, bars, and colleges: What do these all have in common? It’s the fact that these all are places where drinking alcohol is commonplace.

In these places, you’ll have people who can be social drinkers, some who might be giving in to the social pressure to drink, and people who drink on occasion (not every social event). However, you’ll also have people who drink on every occasion and tend to drink a very good amount at each event.

By “a very good amount,” we’re talking about something like seven drinks within an hour. These people might be classified as having a problem with binge drinking, a condition that can be dangerous for several reasons.

What are those reasons? Well, in this blog post, we will discuss binge drinking and its consequences, alcohol use disorder, and the treatment options for these conditions.

What Is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is the act of drinking excessively. This type of drinking is one of the most common forms of extreme alcohol misuse that occurs when men drink five or more drinks in two hours, or when women drink four or more drinks in that same time frame.

How common is this? One in six adults binge drinks about four times per month. This is a common issue in the United States, but it is also one of the most fatal issues as well. Binge drinking is also defined as when one’s drinking brings their blood alcohol content (BAC) to 0.08%.

Wait, Blood Alcohol Content? What Does That Mean?

Blood alcohol content, or BAC for short, is the percentage of alcohol content in a person’s body. 0.0% is sober, 0.08% is legally intoxicated, 0.08-0.40% is seriously impaired, and over 0.40% makes for serious complications. To test BAC, breathalyzer tests are usually taken.

The Scope of Binge Drinking

Binge drinking affects plenty of people in America. In 2019, around 24% of the population (about 66 million people) over the age of 12 reported binge drinking within the past month.

Binge drinking has increased among two demographic groups: older adults and women. Older adults are those 65 and older, and their reported binge drinking has increased by 10%, which is concerning as older adults may have health conditions that alcohol will make worse.

Binge drinking among women has increased as well as about one in four women reported binge drinking within the past month. They reported three binge periods per month and five drinks within each binge period.

One of the most well-known binge drinking demographics is the demographic of 18- to 22-year-olds. This is usually the average age of college students.

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Binge Drinking Among College Students

It is no secret drinking is popular among college students. However, this can be very dangerous. In January of this year, about 52% of full-time college students ages 18-22 drank alcohol in the past month. This is compared with just 44% of those in the same demographic who aren’t in college

That said, the percentage of binge-drinking people ages 18-22 who are full-time college students is 33%. Why is this? There are many factors that contribute to drinking in college, such as the widespread availability at many college campuses, as well as the social pressure in college to drink.

Other factors to consider are certain aspects of college life. For example, not having their time as structured and traditionally not interacting with parents as much can contribute to binge drinking. It is said the first six weeks of freshman year are the most vulnerable time for alcohol-related consequences because of social pressure and student expectations.

The college environment also plays a part in student drinking. Colleges with a strong Greek life (fraternities and sororities) usually report higher rates of binge drinking than other colleges, as do colleges with strong athletic programs.

One final factor is also the influence of the parents. Research shows that when parents discuss alcohol and its consequences with their children, the child is less likely to drink or engage in binge drinking.

While binge drinking is dangerous at any age, it is especially harmful in this age demographic. Binge drinking when the brain isn’t fully developed yet can cause serious damage. For example, it could cause the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that controls decision making) to be weaker than usual, as well as damage the hippocampus (how we learn and remember things). It can also lead to risky behaviors, such as violence.

Consequences of Binge Drinking

Binge drinking comes with serious health issues. Even one episode of binge drinking can shut down one’s immune system and lead to the pancreas inflaming.

Binge drinking can also affect the liver. Excessive drinking can lead to cirrhosis, a disease that makes the liver develop scar tissue when it heals itself. This can be life-threatening as the damage done by cirrhosis can’t be undone.

Binge drinking can lead to other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and high blood pressure, as well as cause strokes. Binge drinking also causes several forms of cancer, including liver, breast, throat, head and neck, and colorectal.

Binge drinking has immediate health effects as well. Excessively drinking alcohol can result in an increased risk of injury and increased forms of violence. It can also lead to risky sexual behaviors, such as unprotected sex and unintended pregnancies.

Binge drinking also can cause birth defects. Excessive drinking during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Babies with fetal alcohol syndrome, a type of FASD, experience problems with their central nervous system, and can have vision and hearing problems, learning difficulties, and problems with attention span and memory.

One immediate danger of binge drinking is the possibility of alcohol overdose, or alcohol poisoning. When a person drinks too much alcohol in a short time frame, it can enter the bloodstream and cause impairment in the life-supporting functions of the brain. Symptoms may include:

  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing
  • Slow heart rate

While accidental alcohol overdose is possible, binge drinking increases the likelihood of alcohol overdose.

Binge Drinking vs. Heavy Alcohol Use

Binge drinking and heavy alcohol use are technically two different issues. While binge drinking is defined as drinking that puts a person’s BAC at 0.08% or higher (about five or more drinks for males or four or more for females in two hours, though it depends on the person), heavy alcohol use is defined as drinking more than four drinks per day every day for males, and more than three every day for females. Both of these increase a person’s risk for alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings a person great distress, makes them unable to control drinking alcohol, causes a tolerance for drinking alcohol so one has to drink more to get the same effect, and causes a negative emotional state when the person is not drinking. There are certain other symptoms of AUD, such as:

  • Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
  • Failing to fulfill major obligations at work, school, or home due to repeated alcohol use
  • Continuing to drink alcohol even though you know it’s causing physical, social, or interpersonal problems
  • Using alcohol in situations where it’s not safe, such as when driving or swimming
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms — such as nausea — when you don’t drink, or drinking to avoid these symptoms

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Alcohol Addiction Treatment

You are not alone. Alcohol use disorder is a very common form of addiction, and there is no shame in seeking treatment for it. If you are wondering if it’s time for you to seek alcoholism treatment, there is a certain set of questions to ask yourself. If you answer “yes” to at least two of them, you may have AUD. Here are some of those questions. Have you:

  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Found that drinking—or being sick from drinking—often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
  • Experienced craving—a strong need, or urge, to drink?

The more symptoms a person has, the more likely they have AUD, and the more important it is to get help. A medical professional can conduct an assessment. There are also online assessments.

Types of Treatment

There are several different types of treatment for AUD. One of the most common forms of treatment is the 12-step approach, also called Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). The 12-step approach is a faith-based style of treatment where the person starts with admitting their former powerlessness over the alcohol, asking God or a Higher Power for help, and sharing the message with other people struggling with alcohol addiction.

For many people, the 12-step program has gotten them sober. It has endured for so long because it has been a reliable treatment.

There are also forms of therapy that can help as well. A common form of therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a form of therapy where the goal is to identify the reasons why a client may start drinking.

CBT can teach coping skills and encourages changing how a person thinks. For example, a client may learn that stress and change trigger their binge drinking. In CBT, a therapist will examine those feelings further and help the client come up with different coping strategies.

CBT has no risk, but it can be uncomfortable. Clients will have to examine themselves and why they have this problem with alcohol, and will typically be assigned “homework.” In terms of CBT, “homework” is doing exercises when out of the therapy session. Doing these exercises will help clients in the long run as opposed to only practicing them with their therapists.

Marital and family counseling are helpful forms of treatment as well. These forms of treatment can help with rebuilding trust with a spouse and with the whole family. The family may not know what to do or how to help with a client’s treatment, and they might feel resentment toward their family member. These forms of therapy air out the grievances and can be the starting point for rebuilding trust. Family support is also important as people with better support systems are more likely to abstain from alcohol.

Another form of treatment for alcohol use disorder is having brief interventions. Brief interventions are just that — brief and quick. These interventions are typically no more than 10 minutes and motivate the client while giving advice and feedback. This form of treatment aims to help the patient change their patterns of misuse.

There are four steps for brief interventions: establishing rapport with the client (asking permission to discuss alcohol misuse and explaining the counselor’s role), providing feedback by exploring the connection between health issues and alcohol misuse, building up motivation for the client, and finally discussing a plan by offering different choices for recovery.

Vertava Health – Mississippi Is Here For You

Recovery is tough, but so are you!

At Vertava Health Mississippi, we are committed to giving you or your loved one the treatment they deserve for binge drinking. We understand how difficult it can be to detox from alcohol, which is why we offer supervised detox. Call (888) 759-7639 to start your journey to recovery today.

Call Vertava Health now!