Last Updated Dec 2, 2021
Binge drinking can have a variety of problematic effects on your health, including harm due to impairment, as well as long-term health problems, such as heart and liver disease.
If you regularly drink a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time, it’s a sign of a problem. You can get help at an addiction treatment program.
How Many Drinks Constitutes Binge Drinking?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a generalized definition of binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks on a single occasion for men. For women, binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks on a single occasion.
While the term occasion may leave room for interpretation, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provides a more specific explanation: Binge drinking is defined as drinking that brings blood alcohol levels to 0.08 percent. On average, this will be five drinks for men and four for women in a roughly two-hour period.
For younger drinkers, the number is usually three drinks for girls and three to five drinks for boys.
Defining a Drink
To further specify what constitutes binge drinking, it is important to understand what is classified as one “drink.” One drink contains 14 grams of alcohol.
Different drinks have different alcohol percentages, which causes one drink to be different based on what you are drinking. The amount that makes up one drink for the most common alcohol types is listed below:
- 12 fluid ounces of beer, or one regular-sized can
- 8–10 fluid ounces of malt liquor or hard seltzer
- 5 fluid ounces of table wine
- 3–4 fluid ounces of fortified wine, such as sherry
- 2–3 fluid ounces of liqueur, aperitif, or cordial
- 1.5 fluid ounces of distilled spirits, such as gin, vodka, rum, whiskey, or tequila
A 2018 study found that in 2015, the average number of drinks consumed during a binge drink for adults was seven drinks.
Short-Term & Long-Term Effects of Binge Drinking
The primary short term effect of binge drinking is an increase in impairment due to intoxication. Some of the consequences of becoming impaired due to alcohol are listed below:
- Bodily injuries, including burns or falls
- Vehicle crashes
- Increased aggression
- Violence toward oneself or others
- Moderate to severe memory loss
- Unsafe intercourse, potentially leading to sexually transmitted diseases or unplanned pregnancy
High levels of binge drinking can lead to an increased risk of blacking out, losing consciousness, or vomiting, among other symptoms of an alcohol overdose. At very high levels, binge drinking can cause death due to alcohol poisoning and loss of vital life functions.
The long-term effects of binge drinking, on the other hand, are not necessarily related to impairment. They are caused by the long-term effects of alcohol on the body. Some of these effects are listed below:
- Issues with pregnancy, including fetal alcohol syndrome, miscarriage, or sudden infant death syndrome
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
- Various types of cancer, including but not limited to liver, colorectal, esophageal, breast, mouth, pharynx, or larynx cancer
- Issues with memory
- Learning problems
For adolescents, binge drinking can cause long term problems with attention, memory, or social and cognitive functioning.
Binge drinking affects more than just individuals who participate in the behavior. Binge drinking is estimated to have cost the U.S. $191 billion in 2010, and it’s estimated this number is higher in 2022.
Differences for Men & Women
The main difference between men and women when it comes to binge drinking is the difference in what is qualified as binge drinking. It’s four drinks for a woman, but five drinks for a man.
In addition to this, a vast difference in binge drinking between the sexes is that 80 percent of drinks consumed while binge drinking are consumed by men. Comparatively, women only consume 20 percent of binge drinks in a given year.
While more men may binge drink than women, women have a higher risk of certain problems related to alcohol when compared to men. In some cases, women may even develop breast cancer as a result of consistent binge drinking.
One reason that alcohol may affect women more is that on average, women are lighter and have less water in their bodies per pound of weight than men. This can lead to higher blood alcohol levels with less alcohol.
These factors mean that women are more likely to be prone to problems compared to men who drink the same amount. Some of these problems including the following:
- Alcoholic hepatitis (liver disease that can progress to cirrhosis or death)
- Cirrhosis (liver scarring)
- Heart disease
- Brain damage, especially in adolescent girls
- Breast cancer
- Pregnancy issues
Should You Get Treatment for Binge Drinking?
Due to the multitude of health risks posed by binge drinking, anyone who believes they have a binge drinking problem should seek help.
In some cases, binge drinking may be a sign of an alcohol use disorder (AUD), or it may be a precursor to AUD. This is a condition in which a person struggles to stop or reduce excessive drinking habits despite the harm it causes.
There are a variety of treatment options for those struggling with alcohol use disorder, including the use of medication and therapy meant to reduce alcohol intake. In therapy, people begin to understand the underlying reasons for alcohol abuse and develop coping mechanisms, so they are better able to resist temptations to drink.
Those suffering from alcohol use disorder may also benefit from support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. These groups can help those struggling with alcohol abuse find companionship and work through their problems in a group setting. These peer support groups are especially helpful when used as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment program.
While binge drinking by itself does not necessarily indicate the presence of an alcohol use disorder, it can still be dangerous and harmful to your health as well as the health of those around you. One binge drinking session doesn’t mean you necessarily have AUD, but repeated binge drinking can indicate a deeper problem with alcohol.
If you are having problems with drinking, reach out to a medical professional or a local support group today.
Binge Drinking. (January 2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Drinking Levels Defined. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Understanding Binge Drinking. (December 2021). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
What is a Standard Drink? National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Annual Total Binge Drinks Consumed by U.S. Adults, 2015. (April 2018). American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Excessive Alcohol Use. (June 2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Women and Alcohol. (April 2021). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help. (August 2021). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.