How Binge Drinking Affects Your Body And How To Stop
What Is Binge Drinking?
Binge drinking is a drinking pattern that causes a person’s blood-alcohol level (BAC) to increase to 0.08 g/dL or higher. This tends to happen after four or more drinks in men and five or more drinks in women. The difference in the amount is due to the different ways female and male bodies physically process alcohol. It’s essential to note that most people who binge drink do not have a severe alcohol use disorder yet. But if they increase the frequency of their binge drinking behavior, they are well on their way to addiction.
The Effects of Binge Drinking on the Body
Many people, especially college students, engage in binge drinking to combat stress or simply let go for a night. But a single night of binge drinking can lead to serious health consequences. Drinking too much, either on a single occasion or over time, can take a serious toll on your body and the way it functions. Here is how alcohol abuse can affect your body:
Alcohol can cause brain matter changes, disrupting communication pathways between neurons, leading to changes in behavior and mood, and making it more challenging to think clearly and move with coordination.
Drinking too much alcohol can cause damage to the heart and potentially result in the following:
- cardiomyopathy (stretching or drooping of the heart muscle)
- arrhythmias (irregular heart beat)
- high blood pressure
The liver is the organ mainly responsible for processing alcohol. When someone binge drinks, they have consumed too much alcohol for their liver to process, which causes their blood alcohol levels to rise. After binge drinking, someone may experience liver inflammation or other problems, including:
- Steatosis (a.k.a. fatty liver)
- Alcoholic hepatitis
- Fibrosis (hardening of the liver)
- Cirrhosis (liver scarring)
Alcohol can cause the pancreas to make toxic substances, which can eventually lead to pancreatitis (dangerous swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas, which prevents proper digestion).
Research indicates the more alcohol a person drinks—particularly the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time—the higher their risk of developing alcohol-associated cancer. Based on data from 2009, an estimated 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths in the US (about 19,500 deaths) were alcohol-related. Binge drinking may increase the risk of developing the following cancers:
- head and neck
- throat (esophageal)
How Excess Alcohol Can Influence the Immune System
Alcohol can weaken the immune system. Someone who drinks regularly is more likely to contract pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who drink less. Drinking a lot in one sitting, like binge drinking, slows the body’s ability to ward off germs and infections, up to 24 hours after getting drunk.
Why Do People Binge Drink?
Before you even started reading this, you probably already knew that binge drinking isn’t good for your health. Drinking is one of those things that is commonly known to be harmful, and yet people do it anyway. Why? As with all behaviors, people binge drink for a reason. Understanding those reasons and addressing them is key to changing the behavior. Let’s look at the factors that can cause good, smart people to engage in this destructive behavior. Reasons for binge drinking fall into two general categories:
- recreation/social purposes
- stress relief
Recreational And Social Drinking
Alcohol is commonly accepted as a regular part of a fun evening with friends. But it’s easy to over-consume, leading to consequences ranging from mild to severe, including:
- poor judgment, doing and saying illogical things
- vomiting (possible death from swallowing vomit)
- fatal or disabling car accident
- rape, assault, robbery
- long-term health problems
- drinking to cope
In addition to drinking too much during a night of partying, binge drinking is a typical response to stressful life situations, including:
- school/workplace stress
- relationship difficulties
- peer pressure and/or not feeling accepted
- major life changes
- traumatic experiences
- feelings of purposelessness
Since everyone experiences at least one of these situations at some point in their life, especially during the tumultuous college-age years, it’s essential to recognize these risk factors and develop a plan to handle them.
Risks of Binge Drinking
Binge drinking is often associated with risky behaviors and consequences, including:
- unintentional injuries (falls, burns, alcohol poisoning, and car accidents)
- sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- violence (homicide, suicide, intimate partner violence, sexual assault)
- chronic diseases (high blood pressure, stroke, heart & liver disease)
- memory and learning problems
- alcohol use disorders (AUD)
There are better alternatives to binge drinking when it comes to having a good time and/or managing stress. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Healthy Ways To Relax
It’s natural to want to kick back and relax after a long day, especially with friends. But booze doesn’t have to be a part of that scenario. Consider these modifications to your happy hour or late-night routine:
- Opt for a non-alcoholic drink like a chocolate shake or a virgin version of your favorite mixed drink.
- Instead of going to the bar with friends, invite them to play a game of Frisbee, watch a movie in the theaters, or pretty much any fun activity that doesn’t involve alcohol.
- If you’re an introvert, relax by yourself or with a small group of friends instead of going to a big party or club where you’ll be expected to drink.
- Go to a coffee shop instead of a bar.
Don’t be shy about telling your friends and family members upfront your reasons for abstaining from alcohol. Explain your reasons for doing so and encourage them to help keep you accountable. If they genuinely care for your well-being, nine out of 10 times they will understand and not push you toward drinking again, and that includes not trying to talk you into accompanying them to a bar or a big party.
Additionally, or perhaps alternatively, try to cultivate friendships with people who don’t drink alcohol. When you hang out with people who know how to have a good time without alcohol, it’s easier for you to do the same.
Healthy Habits To Cope With Stress
Drinking to excess is often caused by stress. Develop alternative methods of dealing with stress and reducing the amount of pressure you’re under. Try to make improvements in the following four areas:
- Exercise: This doesn’t just mean going to the gym; you can also take up a sport or fitness hobby. The idea is to let off steam and give your body the health benefits of exercise.
- Work Fewer Hours: If you’re in school, consider taking fewer credits per semester. If you have a job, try to reduce your hours, or find a better-paying job that allows you to earn the same amount of money but work fewer hours.
- Get More Sleep: The internet will go on without you. Netflix will still be there tomorrow. Trust us on this. Sleep is when your body heals itself and grows stronger, so it’s not optional; it’s essential.
- Eat Healthier: Even if you can’t eat like a saint, pick at least one way you can eat better and start there. Perhaps it’s cutting out junk food or desserts.
Getting enough sleep and proper nutrients will make your head clearer and your emotions calmer, which will help you better handle whatever stress life throws at you. But some issues require more than enough rest, exercise, and food, which brings us to our last key to putting an end to binge drinking.
Get Help Early
It’s critical to address any underlying causes of unhappiness that send you in search of booze. If you’re experiencing problems that just don’t go away, such as relationship difficulties, anxiety, mood swings, or the blues, don’t wait for them to clear up on their own because they will probably get worse the longer you wait.
Yes, we’re telling you to get professional help. There’s no shame in seeing a counselor or psychologist, even if you think your problems aren’t that bad. Don’t compare your difficulties to those of other people. If your problems are driving you to drink, they’re bad enough to warrant getting help.
Just as doctors recommend preventative health care to avoid ending up in the hospital, many people also need preventive psychological care to prevent a significant drinking problem. Get the help you need now, before your problem–and your drinking–takes over your life.
This page does not provide medical advice
Written by Elevate Addiction Services | © 2022 Elevate Addiction Services | All Rights Reserved