According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binge drinking is a common but avoidable public health issue. It is common across the U.S. for a night out with friends to turn into a binge drinking session.
Binge drinking means drinking an amount of alcohol that raises blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 percent or higher in two hours. For men, it takes about five or more drinks to get to this level. For women, it takes about four or more drinks.
Everyone is different, however. Some people may be able to handle more or less than this amount. How fast you drink will also affect the severity of your binge drinking session. People who drink the same number of drinks more quickly will raise their BAC faster.
The good news is most people who binge drink are not dependent on alcohol. Adults between the ages of 18 and 34 years old are the most likely to binge drink. Still, half of binge drinking occurs with people age 35 or older. Most underage drinkers report consuming their alcohol in binge drinking sessions.
In the United States, men are more likely to binge drink than women.
There are many risks and problems linked to binge drinking and problem drinking such as:
Binge drinking also has a role in social problems, such as domestic violence, child abuse, homicide, and even suicide.
Alcohol works by interrupting the normal balance in your nervous system. It causes your inhibitory neurotransmitters to increase while decreasing the effect of the excitatory neurotransmitters in your body. This means that while you are drinking, your brain will release extra dopamine, the chemical that makes you feel good.
The side effects of alcohol can be felt by anyone who drinks even a moderate amount, but people who binge drink are more likely to experience some of the following:
Consistent binge drinking could make you more tolerant of alcohol and its effects. You might need to drink more to achieve the same effects as before. This compounds the risks of binge drinking. Since it takes more alcohol to get drunk, you are more likely to consume increasingly larger amounts. This makes alcohol poisoning more likely.
These effects go away after your liver removes alcohol from your body. However, you may wake up with a hangover after a night of binge drinking. The medical name for a hangover is veisalgia.
Binge drinking results in next-day hangovers in the best of cases. After you have consumed excess alcohol, your body metabolizes it as a chemical called acetaldehyde.
This metabolite is known for its toxic effects. It contributes to nausea, headaches, and could worsen depression in some people. Drinking too much causes the blood vessels to expand. This process has been linked to migraines, as the blood vessels contract to their normal size. Your body will hurt whenever your blood vessels expand or decrease in size.
Alcohol interrupts your regular sleep cycle. The interruptions to your brain’s natural chemicals also make you more sensitive to sound and light. Ultimately, you are also suffering from a lack of sleep when you are dealing with a hangover.
Along with being a depressant, alcohol is a diuretic. The night before your hangover you probably made a lot of trips to the bathroom because alcohol blocks the antidiuretic hormone. This can leave you dehydrated.
According to VICE, you may become nauseous because alcohol causes your stomach to become inflamed. In addition, alcohol passes more quickly through the intestines and colon, and water is not effectively squeezed out of stool. This combination of reactions contributes to vomiting and diarrhea. In some instances, a binge drinking session may have the opposite reaction and lead to constipation.
Maintaining focus while hungover is often difficult. Because of everything else happening in the body, your electrolyte levels are not optimal. This imbalance may affect your heart, and you may even have an irregular heartbeat as a result of binge drinking.
In addition, you may find yourself more emotional during a hangover. The imbalances in your electrolytes, dehydration, and the rebalancing of your hormones may cause you to feel more volatile as the body tries to heal itself.
According to Harvard Medical School, there are no official cures for a hangover. Still, there are some things you can do to feel better as you try to recover from a night out.
Prevention is key to avoiding negative consequences due to binge drinking. According to NHS, you can reduce the risk of a hangover by learning what your limits are. Avoid drinking on an empty stomach, as this can escalate intoxication and is harder on your body. Drink some water in between alcoholic drinks; this will help you to drink more slowly and stay hydrated.
Ultimately, avoid binge drinking. Keep drinking levels moderate, and avoid the associated risks of binge drinking, including hangovers.
(October 2018) Fact Sheets — Binge Drinking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm
(December 2016) Binge drinking. National Health Service. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/alcohol-support/binge-drinking-effects/
(April 2018) What is an Alcoholic Bender? Verywell Mind. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-a-bender-67956
The Dangers of Binge Drinking. University of Rochester Medical Center. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=1&contentid=1924
(September 2018) Not All Problem Drinkers are Alcoholics. Verywell Mind. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.verywellmind.com/problem-drinker-63280
(June 2012) Alcohol and the Brain. State Government of Victoria. Retrieved December 2018 from http://mapi.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/saywhen/know-the-facts/how-alcohol-works-alcohol-and-the-brain
(March 2017) What’s Happening in Your Body During a Soul-Crushing Hangover. VICE. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/xyk3g7/whats-happening-inside-your-body-during-a-soul-crushing-hangover