Alcohol is a very powerful substance. As a society, Americans are some of the most indulgent in alcohol in the world. With how commonplace its use and even abuse is, it’s easy to see how our outlook on alcohol can be skewed. In fact, Americans are actually more prone to binge drinking than most other countries.
Having so much cultural acceptance of dangerous drinking habits can, perhaps, be a key reason that alcohol-related health issues and injuries top the list of causes of death. With this in mind, it’s important to educate yourself on the reality of what actual binge drinking is and just how it affects your body.
What Actually Qualifies as “binge drinking”?
Binge drinking is defined as the consumption of an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time. Forgetting everything you think you may know about alcohol and drinking culture, what actually qualifies as binge drinking may shock you.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drinking crosses over from casual consumption into binge drinking territory whenever a man consumes five drinks or more in a two-hour period. For women, the magic number is four drinks. Basically, it’s a pattern of drinking that will bring the individual to a blood alcohol level or blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent grams or more.
For anyone who’s ever gone to a college party or a sports bar on game night, this number may seem unbelievably low. That’s because 1 in 6 adults in the United States binge drinks about four times a month, with an average binge drinking session being approximately eight drinks. The age groups most likely to engage in binge drinking is (not surprisingly) 18 to 24-year-olds and 25 to 34-year-olds.
With these numbers in mind, you may be re-evaluating your own drinking habits. The issue isn’t necessarily the number of drinks per se, but the subsequent effect the drinks have on your blood alcohol level. Since a person’s blood alcohol level is directly correlated to the percentage of alcohol in their bloodstream, various amounts of alcohol affect people differently.
Factors like body weight, gender, medications taken, and even the amount of food eaten can all impact how quickly or slowly your body metabolizes the alcohol, thus raising or lowering your blood alcohol level, respectively. For example, if you’re a woman of slender build who hasn’t had a hearty meal, your blood alcohol level will be a lot higher after one drink than a heavier-set man who just finished a three-course meal.
What Happens to the Body as Your Blood Alcohol Level Changes?
As a result of the circumstantial nature of one’s BAC, cycling through different stages of drunkenness can occur at various rates. Rather than focusing on how quickly your BAC increases, understand what happens to your body at differing levels.
From the seemingly minimal symptoms of being “tipsy” (mildly drunk) to the overwhelming state of blacking out, or alcohol-related amnesia, as you climb the scale you’ll observe different effects on the body:
- 0.020-0.039 percent BAC:
No loss of coordination, slight euphoria, and loss of shyness. Relaxation and depressant effects are not apparent.
- 0.040-0.059 percent BAC:
Feeling of well-being, relaxation, lower inhibitions, and sensation of warmth. Euphoria. Minor impairment of judgment and memory and lowering of caution.
- 0.06-0.099 percent BAC:
Slight impairment of balance, speech, vision, reaction time, and hearing. Euphoria. Reduced judgment and self-control. Impaired reasoning and memory.
- 0.100-0.129 percent BAC:
Significant impairment of motor coordination and loss of good judgment. Speech may be slurred; balance, peripheral vision, reaction time, and hearing are impaired.
- 0.130-0.159 percent BAC:
Gross motor impairment and lack of physical control. Blurred vision and major loss of balance. Euphoria is reducing and beginning dysphoria (feeling unwell).
- 0.160-0.199 percent BAC:
Dysphoria predominates, nausea appears. The drinker has the appearance of being “sloppy drunk”.
- 0.200-0.249 percent BAC:
Need help with walking and is in a state of complete mental confusion. Dysphoria with nausea and vomiting; possibly blacking out.
- 0.250-0.399 percent BAC:
Alcohol poisoning, loss of consciousness.
- 0.40 percent and above BAC:
The onset of coma, possible death due to respiratory arrest.
For reference, the legal limit according to the DMV and state law in all 50 U.S. states to operate a motor vehicle is 0.08 percent blood alcohol level. That means by the time you reach the middle of the third group of BAC levels listed above, you’ve met the allotted BAC to legally drive yourself home.
Driving with a BAC over 0.08 percent is considered driving under the influence or a DUI. Receiving a DUI is not only a criminal charge, but driving under the influence can lead to a number of other negative consequences.
Every day in the United States, alone, 28 people die in a motor vehicle accident that involves an alcohol-impaired driver. Essentially, there is one death related to drunk driving every 51 minutes.
What Does Binge Drinking Do to Your Blood Alcohol Level?
The reason that binge drinking can be so dangerous is that it raises your BAC higher, quicker. As opposed to steadily drinking fewer drinks across longer spans of time, a binge drinker will consume more alcohol in a short period of time. Getting drunk at a faster rate means that you will experience more severe symptoms of drunkenness without giving your body the opportunity to process the alcohol and recover.
While not all binge drinkers are alcoholics, most alcoholics are binge drinkers. The frequency and rate at which alcoholics drink are what have such stark effects on the body. Alcoholism has terrible long-term side effects on the body, and can, in its worst forms, be deadly.
Due to over-consumption of alcohol, the body does not get a chance to heal or process the alcohol at a healthy rate, which ultimately leads to severe damage to the liver and brain.
What Can You Do?
If you or someone you know is currently struggling with binge drinking and/or alcoholism, The Palm Beach Institute is here for you! With almost 50 years of experience in treating substance abuse disorders, we can help you conquer your drinking problem.