What Is Binge Drinking & Why Is It Dangerous

Alcohol is widely used throughout the world, but many people engage with it in an unsafe manner.1 Heavy drinking or binge drinking can cause devastating outcomes in a short period.2

In this article, we’ll define binge drinking, how common it is, why it is dangerous, and how to find help for alcohol addiction.

What Is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is the consumption of an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period.1 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines binge drinking as:1

  • 5 or more drinks in one sitting for men.
  • 4 or more drinks in one sitting for women.

Binge drinking is a very common and costly problem in the United States.1 Underestimating the dangers of binge drinking or losing track of how many drinks someone has had at parties, sports events, and other social events can have deadly consequences.2

Prevalence of Binge Drinking

The following statistics show the prevalence of binge drinking in the United States:1,3

  • Approximately 60 million people in the U.S. (21.5%) typically engage in binge drinking, according to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).3
  • Every year, approximately 17 billion drinks are consumed while binge drinking by U.S. adults, according to a 2018 study.1
  • 25% of the people who binge drink have at least 8 drinks in one sitting.
  • In a 2019 survey, adults between the ages of 25 and 34 were the age group found to binge drink most often, with young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 following close behind.1
  • Over a quarter of college students usually engage in binge drinking, according to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).3

Immediate Dangers of Binge Drinking

Excessive drinking in a short amount of time can lead to grave consequences for the person who drinks and those individuals around them.1 The following dangerous consequences have been associated with binge drinking:1

  • Increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Unintended pregnancy and worse pregnancy outcomes such as miscarriage or stillbirth.
  • Accidental injury or death from motor vehicle collisions, falls, burns, and other accidents. 13,384 people died in alcohol-impaired driving traffic deaths in 2021.4
  • Increased instances of violence such as homicide, suicide, domestic violence, and sexual assault.
  • Alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol Poisoning

As someone’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) increases, so does their risk of death or serious and lasting health complications. Alcohol poisoning—or alcohol overdose—is the condition in which a person drinks enough alcohol to cause life-threatening symptoms.2

Critical signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning may include:2

  • Confusion.
  • Vomiting.
  • Slow heart rate.
  • Cold or clammy skin.
  • Low body temperature.
  • Loss of consciousness or difficulty staying conscious.
  • Dangerously slow breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute).
  • Irregular breathing pattern (pausing for 10 seconds between breaths).
  • Pale or blueish skin coloration.
  • Seizures.

If you recognize some of the above signs and symptoms in someone, call 911 immediately. Someone does not need to exhibit all the symptoms to be in danger, and a person who passes out from alcohol poisoning can die.2

In the U.S., around 2,300 people die every year due to alcohol poisoning.1

Long-Term Effects of Chronic Binge Drinking

In addition to the immediate threats, binge drinking or heavy drinking—15 drinks or more in a week for men and 8 drinks or more in a week for women—can have long-term effects on health.5

The following long-term effects that increase in risk with chronic alcohol use include:5

  • High blood pressure.
  • Heart disease.
  • Irregular heart rhythm.
  • Liver disease (including fatty liver, inflammation, and scarring).
  • Increased risk for cancer of the mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, colon and rectum, liver, and breast.
  • Long-term brain development deficiencies.3
  • Stroke.

People who binge drink often may have an increased risk of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD)—the clinical term for alcohol addiction. AUD is defined as continued drinking despite alcohol use causing significant problems in one’s life. It is a chronic but treatable condition.6

Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment Options

Treatment for AUD may involve medical detoxification, behavioral therapy, peer support, and treatment for co-occurring disorders.

If you or someone you know is struggling to control alcohol use, help is available. Greenhouse Treatment Center offers inpatient rehab near Dallas and other types of rehab care. Their caring and professional staff can walk you through alcohol detox and ongoing treatment.

Admissions navigators are available at to start the admissions process or get more information about insurance coverage and other ways to pay for rehab.

You can also use the confidential to verify your insurance coverage.

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