Wellness: Parenting

The Dangers of Binge Drinking

Too many young people are participating in a dangerous practice called binge drinking. It means drinking alcohol to the point of intoxication. It's defined as having 5 or more drinks in a row for men. For women, it's 4 or more drinks in a row. This amount of drinking will produce blood alcohol levels far above the legal driving limit of 0.08%. 

According to The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, at any point in time, 40% of U.S. college aged students will have engaged in binge drinking within the previous 2 weeks.

For these students, intoxication usually is the main goal of drinking. And with intoxication may come many other dangers, including dizziness, loss of coordination, diarrhea, vomiting, lack of judgment, or even passing out. If a person vomits when passed out, the airway can become blocked, and the results can be fatal.

Host of injuries

According to the CDC, binge drinking leads to unintentional injuries. These include motor vehicle crashes, falls, burns, drowning, and hypothermia. Binge drinkers have increased risk of homicide, suicide, child abuse, domestic violence, hypertension, heart attack, gastritis, pancreatitis, sexually transmitted infections, meningitis, and poor control of diabetes.

Too much alcohol can be fatal. Alcohol affects the central nervous system, slowing breathing and heart rate. It also interferes with the gag reflex, which increases the risk of choking on vomit, if the drinker passes out from excess drinking. Blood alcohol levels can continue to rise even if a person passes out. If a person who has been drinking heavily is confused, vomits, has a seizure, has pale skin, or becomes unconscious, it may be a sign of severe alcohol intoxication.

People who frequently engage in binge drinking are more likely to develop alcoholism. 

Alcohol use disorder

Alcohol use disorder is defined as a pattern of drinking that may be accompanied by some of the following problems:

  • Failure to follow through on major work, school, or home responsibilities.

  • Drinking in situations that are physically dangerous. A person might drink while driving a car or operating machinery. This could include being arrested for driving under the influence or for physically hurting someone while drunk. 

  • Continued drinking despite having ongoing relationship problems caused or worsened by alcohol. 

Alcohol abuse may not always include an extremely strong craving for alcohol, loss of control, or physical dependence. 

Loss of control

Alcoholism is a term often used for a more severe alcohol use disorder and is a disease often marked by these elements:

  • Craving. The person has a hunger for or strong need to drink.

  • Loss of control. The person finds it difficult to stop drinking once he or she starts. He or she may be unable to consistently abstain or exhibit behavioral control of drinking. 

  • Tolerance. The person finds he or she needs to drink more alcohol to get high.

  • Diminished recognition of the consequences of continued drinking.  

Most alcoholics don't have the willpower to stop drinking and need outside assistance to recover from their disease.

Recent research has shown that many people may inherit a vulnerability to alcoholism. Environmental factors, such as peers and the availability of alcohol, also are significant influences.

Brain development in young adults

Most of the college students engaging in binge drinking are still at a vulnerable stage of brain development, which can last through age 21 to age 25. This puts them at greater risk for the toxicities and consequences of drinking. This is in addition to the direct effects of alcohol on judgment and loss of control. The high of binge drinking now can lead to a more dangerous, unhealthy path in the future. It can even be lethal.

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