Binge drinking can have serious consequences on a person’s health and may lead to an alcohol addiction or dependency.
In 2015, 15.1 million U.S. adults had an alcohol use disorder, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. This number includes those with binge drinking disorders, in which people consume a hefty amount of alcohol in a short amount of time.
Binge drinking, like other types of alcohol use disorders, can have many consequences on a person’s health, such as risk of developing alcohol addiction or dependence. While some people will stop binge drinking and not fall into the cycle of addiction, not everyone will come out of this behavior unchanged.
Fortunately, there are treatment programs available which are designed to meet the needs of those with any and all alcohol use disorders, all with a common goal of helping alcohol abusers reach a sober, fulfilling life in recovery.
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What Is Binge Drinking?
Binge drinking is a type of alcohol use disorder (AUD) which involves drinking a heavy amount of alcohol in a short time frame.
The formal definition of binge drinking provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) is:
- A pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. Though there is no set limit of drinking for when this level will be reached, it is typically reached in four drinks for women and five drinks for men in a two-hour time period or less.
People may binge drink on occasions, such as for parties or other social events, or they may fall into a habit of binge drinking several times per month, sometimes for many months or even years at a time.
When people binge drink five or more days in a single month, it is considered heavy drinking. The problem with binge drinking or heavy drinking is that both increase the chances of developing alcohol addiction or alcohol dependence, two alcohol use disorders which are difficult to manage without help and which can effectively destroy people’s health and lives.
When Does Binge Drinking Become A Problem?
Binge drinking with any frequency can have vast consequences on a person’s health. The NIAAA explains that heavy drinking is detrimental to health, whether a person drinks heavily once, on multiple occasions or over a long period of time. This is because alcohol can affect the brain and body in many ways.
Long-term alcohol abuse can affect multiple organs, including the brain, heart, liver and pancreas. Alcohol abuse can greatly affect the immune system, making a person more susceptible to becoming ill and contracting infectious diseases. Long-term alcohol abuse also puts a person at heightened risk of developing several types of cancer, including cancers of the breast, esophagus, mouth and liver.
Essentially, binge drinking in any capacity is not good for a person’s health, but continuing to binge drink becomes a danger to a person’s life if they begin to show signs of addiction or dependence.
Knowing when binge drinking becomes a problem could help secure treatment for a person before drinking takes a toll on their life and health.
Signs Of Alcoholism
Signs of alcoholism, also called alcohol dependence, are those which signal either a mental reliance (addiction) or physical dependence on alcohol. People with alcohol dependence have already begun to rely on alcohol to function normally, which means they experience withdrawal symptoms when not drinking or if they try to stop drinking.
If a person who binge drinks begins showing signs of withdrawal, they likely have a dependence on alcohol and will benefit from treatment.
Signs Of Alcohol Withdrawal
When alcohol withdrawal symptoms will occur depends on a few factors, including how long the person has been drinking, how often they drink and how much they drink.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include:
- increased heart rate
A small percent of people will also develop a severe form of alcohol withdrawal which is extremely dangerous, including symptoms of high fever, extreme confusion, body tremors, increased blood pressure, hallucinations and seizures.
Signs Of Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol addiction is the mental reliance on alcohol and can happen fairly quickly for someone who binge drinks or drinks heavily. When a person develops an addiction, they come to rely on the feel-good effects produced by alcohol, such as feelings of calm, relaxation and euphoria (increased happiness).
Once a person becomes addicted to alcohol, they will begin drinking more and more. Before long, they will likely develop a physical dependence on alcohol as well. The withdrawal symptoms which come with alcohol dependence make it very difficult to stop drinking without help.
It’s best to recognize binge drinking as an alcohol use disorder and get help before the person develops an addiction to or dependence on alcohol to avoid the risks which come with these disorders.
Some signs or symptoms which signal alcohol addiction may include:
- having cravings for alcohol when not drinking
- becoming obsessed or preoccupied with finding and drinking alcohol
- feeling uncomfortable to upset or panicked if unable to find or obtain alcohol
- wanting to stop drinking but being unable to successfully do so
- being unable to stop drinking despite consequences
- experiencing memory blackouts
- loss of control over alcohol use
- having problems at work, school or home due to drinking
- experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as waking up with hand tremors
- feeling anxious or depressed before, after or during heavy drinking
- needing to drink more to feel the same effects of alcohol (tolerance)
Once alcohol addiction develops, it is very hard to overcome without professional help in a formal treatment program. Fortunately, there are a number of treatment programs in place, with a variety of treatment options, to help people with all types of alcohol use disorder. For those with a dependence on alcohol, treatment usually begins with detoxification.
Medically Supervised Alcohol Detox Programs
Detoxification is the process of ridding alcohol from the body so a person can move on to treatment. It’s important to rid the body of alcohol so a person’s mind is fresh and clear, making it more receptive to treatment principles. By itself, detoxification is not a complete treatment plan, but one important part of a complete inpatient addiction treatment program.
There are many types of detox programs, but one of the best options for those dependent on alcohol is a medically supervised detox program. These detox programs provide medical care and support, medication when necessary, monitoring of vital signs to ensure health and safety and counseling.
Medications such as naltrexone, or Vivitrol, can help alleviate or curb withdrawal symptoms, keeping them at bay while a person physically heals. Once the body is restored, besting the physical reliance on alcohol, it’s time to begin healing the mind and freeing a person from their mental reliance on alcohol (addiction).
A successful detox lends to a successful treatment outcome, so it’s important that a person find a program which will help them safely and effectively detox for a smooth transition to treatment.
Inpatient Addiction Treatment Programs For Binge Drinking
Binge drinking affects both the body and mind of the person abusing alcohol. Because of this, treatment must properly address both of these health aspects to help a person manage their addiction issues long-term.
One of the best ways to accomplish long-term addiction management in recovery is through entering an inpatient addiction treatment program. Inpatient treatment allows for comprehensive healing of all aspects of health, including any co-occurring substance use or mental health disorders.
There are a multitude of therapies and treatment methods now shown to be effective at treating alcohol addiction and teaching people necessary skills to both build and maintain a fulfilling, sober life.
The very best inpatient programs will design a custom program for each individual to ensure the most complete healing, but some methods used in treating alcohol use disorders include: counseling, individual and group therapy, support groups, medication-assisted treatment, alternative therapies like adventure and wilderness therapies, yoga and art therapy, and more.
Research shows that people who get into and complete addiction treatment will see the best outcomes, including remaining sober and improving their personal and occupational functioning.