Have you ever been guilty of alcohol abuse? If so, is binge drinking something you practice regularly? Statistics show that binge drinking is a big problem in the UK when compared to other countries. How serious the problem is and if alcohol abuse is an issue really depends on the statistics you trust. For example, statistics from the ONS suggest that roughly 15% of those who consumed alcohol in 2013 binged at least once during the week previous to being surveyed. A 2014 report from the World Health Organisation paints a much darker picture, saying 28% of Britons binge drink. Most of them have an underlying alcohol addiction.
Whether you believe the 15% or 28% statistic, one thing is still clear: far too many people are binge drinking. And until something is done to bring the number as close to zero as possible, we will continue to see alcohol misuse and abuse take a terrible toll on our families, workplaces and communities.
What Is Binge Drinking?
While most of us will recognise that students who go out and drink as many shots as they can in a single sitting are binge drinking, people are often surprised to learn what actually constitutes binge drinking in everyday life. Binge drinking is obviously drinking excessively, but what is excessive?
According to research, both a woman who drinks two-thirds of a bottle of wine and a man who drinks more than four pints of beer in a single sitting are binge drinking. Knowing what our normal drinking habits are, it is quite easy to fail to recognise that the amount of alcohol being consumed over the course of an evening is excessive. It is equally easy to forget how much harm can be caused by regular binging.
The best way to remember what constitutes binge drinking is to make yourself familiar with what are considered safe levels of drinking. The government recommends both men and women limit alcohol consumption to no more than two units of alcohol per day. Anything in excess is, at best, alcohol misuse. Any excess within a short amount of time (say about an hour or so) constitutes binge drinking.
What Are the Dangers of Binge Drinking?
It is important to be aware that binge drinking even for a short period of time can lead to the development of alcohol withdrawal symptoms once you stop drinking. The most common withdrawal symptoms are as follows:
- nervousness, restlessness, anxiety
- trouble sleeping, insomnia
- tremors (especially in the hands)
- seizures and hallucinations.
Withdrawal symptoms have the potential to be fatal due to the risk of something known as delirium tremens. This condition results in increased heart rate and blood pressure combined with intense hallucinations and seizures. The seizures are especially dangerous because they can lead to potentially fatal injuries should the individual fall and hit his or her head.
There is also the danger of alcohol poisoning, caused by drinking more alcohol than the body is able to process. There is no minimum number of units known to cause alcohol poisoning, as it depends on a number of individual factors including age, sex, and weight. However, considering men can only process around 1 unit of alcohol an hour while women can process the same amount in 90 minutes, it is clear to see that binge drinking can quickly lead to difficulties.
Moving on, binge drinking has the potential to cause respiratory failure, increases the likelihood of choking on vomit, and increases the possibility of suffering from cardiac arrest. These increased risks can last for up to 24 hours after the binge episode ends.
The combined effect of all of this should make it evident that binge drinking is not something to be taken lightly. You can do serious harm to yourself through just one episode of careless binging. Make binging repetitive and you increase the likelihood of harm exponentially. Even if you do not experience withdrawal symptoms or serious injuries, repetitive binge drinking can be a precursor to alcoholism. You could already be well on your way to becoming alcohol-dependent if you binge on a regular basis.
How Is Binge Drinking Treated?
The first step in treating chronic binge drinking is to establish whether a person is already physically dependent on alcohol. One of the things evaluators will look for is the presence of withdrawal symptoms in the absence of alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms are a pretty good indication of dependence.
If this is the case, the person will need to undergo a medicated detox in order to allow the body to be cleansed from alcohol in the safest, most comfortable way possible. Following detox (or if no detox is required), the person will need to have intensive therapeutic support provided by trained therapists and counsellors.
Therapeutic support is designed to help the alcohol abuser identify the triggers that cause him or her to binge drink. Once these triggers have been determined, the individual will be more aware of them when they occur, and be able to utilise effective coping mechanisms that are taught as part of alcohol recovery counselling.
It has been our experience that the best means of alcohol counselling is to receive it in the context of a residential treatment programme. This is due to the fact that residential treatment separates the patient from daily stresses and other circumstances that enable binge drinking. Residential treatment gives patients the opportunity to focus entirely on getting themselves better. That being said, if a residential treatment programme is not feasible, outpatient counselling can also be helpful, particularly when used in conjunction with AA meetings.
It goes without saying that binge drinking is not a good practice to be involved with. If you are a regular binge drinker, please consider the possibility that you may already be alcohol-dependent and, if not, well on your way to getting there. Contact us so we can help you determine the seriousness of your drinking problem. If you need detox and rehabilitative support, we can help you locate a good programme in your local area. We can also help you find counselling and group support if you don’t need detox and rehab.