Having a few drinks may seem harmless enough. However, for those who consume high amounts of alcohol in a short period of time, the implications of binge drinking could be much more serious. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes binge drinking as the “most common, costly, and deadly pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States.” The good news is that by following certain strategies, both those who serve and those who consume alcohol can help to reduce the odds that this risky behavior will occur.
Defining Binge Drinking
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as “a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL.” The NIAAA says this typically occurs after women have four drinks and men have five drinks in the span of about two hours. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides a similar definition, defining binge drinking as “five or more alcoholic drinks for males or four or more alcoholic drinks for females on the same occasion … on at least one day in the past month.”
In contrast, the NIAAA defines alcohol use disorder (AUD) as “a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.” The NIAAA underscores the wide range of AUD severity and that recovery is possible for individuals at any level.
The Pitfalls of Binge Drinking
Binge drinking can have a variety of negative short- and long-term effects—including those that may influence a person’s physical and mental health. Consider this list from the CDC, which describes the many health problems that are associated with binge drinking:
- Unintentional injuries such as car crashes, falls, burns, and alcohol poisoning.
- Violence, including homicide, suicide, intimate partner violence, and sexual assault.
- Sexually transmitted diseases.
- Unintended pregnancy and poor pregnancy outcomes, including miscarriage and stillbirth.
- Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
- Sudden infant death syndrome.
- Chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and liver disease.
- Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon.
- Memory and learning problems.
- Alcohol dependence.
Fortunately, the occurrence of binge drinking may be reduced if those who serve and those who consume alcohol take certain steps. In How to Reduce Binge Drinking: Strategies for Big Parties or a Night In, MSW@USC—the online Master of Social Work program at the University of Southern California—offers specific strategies that may help.
Strategies for Event Organizers
To reduce the risk of binge drinking, make sure that alcohol doesn’t play a central role in your event. You can do that by taking the following steps:
- Establish one or two areas where people are served beverages.
- Ensure servers have Responsible Beverage Service training.
- Provide a limited quantity of alcohol.
- Offer alternative beverages.
- Implement a regulated system of providing beverages, like drink tickets.
- Establish a set window of time during which attendees can drink.
- Do not host BYOB (bring your own bottle) events.
Strategies for Partygoers
Since individuals often lack awareness of how intoxicated they are, practicing mindfulness and self-regulation can help to reduce risk. This can be accomplished by:
- Slowing the pace of your drinking.
- Determining the amount of time or number of drinks you will drink ahead of time.
- Being mindful of the alcohol content in the drinks you consume.
- Limiting the size of your drinks.
- Having a full glass of water between each drink.
- Being sure to eat before you drink.
Strategies for Individuals
A simple strategy like contemplating self-reflective questions may help you to adjust your behavior. Questions to ask yourself before you start drinking at events, at meals, or at home include:
- What do I need to accomplish tomorrow?
- What responsibilities do I have?
- How much did I drink last time I consumed alcohol, and how did I feel after?
- How can I remain safe and feel my best?
- When do I need to go home/go to bed to be productive tomorrow?
- How am I getting home tonight?
- How much money do I want to spend?
- Am I going into an environment where most people will be drinking?
- Will other people expect/encourage me to drink heavily?
- How can I communicate my intentions to limit my drinking?
Enjoying a drink can be a great way to relax and have fun with friends. But to be safe in the short and long term, it’s always best to do so in moderation.
Alexis Anderson is a senior digital PR coordinator at 2U, Inc. Alexis supports outreach for their school counseling, education, mental health, and occupational therapy programs. Find her on Twitter @HeyLexHey.
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