the harmful effects of binge drinking

Binge Drinking

What is Binge Drinking?

The definition of binge drinking used by the NHS is when you drink more than double the lower risk guidelines for alcohol in one session.  Government ‘lower risk guidelines’ are 3-4 units of alcohol for men (equivalent to a pint and a half of 4% beer) and 2-3 units of alcohol for women (equivalent to a 175 -250ml glass of wine).

Binge drinking for men, therefore, is drinking more than 8 units of alcohol – or about three pints of 5% beer. For women, it’s drinking more than 6 units of alcohol, equivalent to two large glasses (250mls) of wine.

Bear in mind that there are stronger beers and ciders (6-9%) and cocktails which contain a LOT more units.


Why is binge drinking riskier than drinking normally?

Two large glasses of wine may not seem like very much. But drinking six units of alcohol in a short space of time – an hour, say – will raise your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and could make you drunk very quickly. Drinking the same amount over several hours, and accompanied by food, will not have the same effect on your BAC.


What are the effects of binge drinking?

Getting drunk can affect your physical and mental health. The reason the government changed the drinking guidelines from weekly amounts to daily amounts (see above) is that people who were drinking a lot of units all in one go were getting into as much or more trouble than people who drank less units on a daily basis.

  • Accidents and falls are common because being drunk affects your balance and co-ordination. For example, alcohol is the single biggest cause of accidents at home and is involved in most cases of domestic violence.
  • In extreme cases, you could die. Overdosing on alcohol can stop you breathing or affect your heart rythm, or you could choke on your vomit, or stumble into the road.
  • Binge drinking can leave you more vulnerable to risky situations.
  • Binge drinking can affect your mood and your memory and in the longer term can lead to depression and anxiety or other mental health problems.
  • Binge drinking has an adverse effect on your liver.

More commonly, binge drinking can lead to anti-social, aggressive and violent behaviour.


How can you tell if you’re a binge drinker?

Even if you don’t drink alcohol every day, you could be a binge drinker if you:

  • tend to drink quickly
  • regularly drink more than the lower risk guidelines in a single session
  • sometimes drink to get drunk.

If you find it hard to stop drinking once you have started, you could also have a problem with binge drinking and possibly alcohol dependence.