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Binge and Social Drinking

Binge Drinking Versus Social Drinking

Can a glass of bourbon or wine with friends set off a dangerous trend? At what point do we go from having a good time to endangering the lives of people around us? With alcohol, the lines between social and binge drinking are sometimes blurry. For many people, having a drink a few times per week can be a way to unwind with friends. Drinking to excess or being unable to control the amount of alcohol you consume could lead to serious health consequences or problems at work, school, and in personal relationships.

What’s the Difference Between Social Drinking and Binge Drinking?

Social drinking can be thought of simply as having a drink with friends. Social drinking often revolves around the idea of relaxing and enjoying another person’s company or having a glass of wine at dinner. Many people who drink socially do so only on occasion. If they do it frequently, they have the ability to limit themselves or stop themselves from becoming drunk. They are in control of their alcohol consumption.

In contrast, people who binge drink have the ability to control their consumption, but they choose not to. Binge drinking is drinking for the sole purpose of becoming intoxicated by consuming large quantities quickly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks in a two-hour time period so that a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) exceeds 0.08 percent.

Often, people binge drink in social settings at bars, parties, celebrations, or events. But do not mistake binge drinking as the favored pastime of only college partiers. People binge on alcohol any time they make the decision to drink until they are drunk.

Being a binge drinker does not make a person an alcoholic. But binge drinking is still alcohol abuse. It may also set up a pattern in which a person can quickly develop a dependence on alcohol.

Who Binges?

A study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found that young adults ages 18 to 25 are the most likely to have problems with alcohol. The same study says that young adults are more likely to engage in binge drinking.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by Americans under the age of 21 is in the form of binge drinking. The story isn’t much different with adults, either. About 75 percent of the alcohol consumed by adults in the United States is done through binge drinking.

What Are the Risks of Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking can cause a battery of serious health problems, both in the short term and in the long term. Alcohol interferes with the brain’s normal functioning. This can lead to impaired judgment and coordination as well as mood changes. Heavy drinking can also cause health complications in the liver, heart, pancreas, and overall immune system.

Some of the long- and short-term effects of binge drinking include:

  • accidental injury or death
  • blackout, or forgetting events that occurred while you were drinking
  • cancer, including breast cancer and cancer of the mouth, esophagus, and liver
  • heart muscle damage, which may lead to heart failure
  • high blood pressure
  • liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
  • pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • stroke
  • sudden death as a result of cardiovascular disease
  • mood swings

Is There a Safe Amount to Drink?

Moderation is important when it comes to drinking. Of course, abstaining from alcohol completely will also prevent potential problems or complications.

For most adults, moderate alcohol consumption is no more than two drinks a day for men, or one drink for women and people over 65.  A "drink" is considered:

  • 1.5 ounces of liquor
  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 5 ounces of wine

According to the Mayo Clinic, moderate consumption of alcohol may actually have positive health benefits, including lowering your risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke.  However, research has also demonstrated that more is not better. According to the NIAAA,  people who drink too much often increase their risk for health problems, including cardiovascular disease, liver disease, and cancer.

Don’t start drinking as a way to prevent future health problems. In other words, if you don’t drink now, don’t start.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Kimberly Holland
Medically reviewed on: Nov 10, 2014: George Krucik, MD, MBA

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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