Binge drinking, or drinking several alcoholic drinks in a short time, can have serious health effects, some of which may be dangerous and even life threatening.
Binge drinking is often regarded as a fun, social activity with little thought given to the health effects that may follow. It is well known that binge drinking can cause sickness and a hangover, but it can also put people in danger, lead to serious long term health problems, and sometimes even be fatal.
Binge drinking generally means drinking several alcoholic drinks in a row over a short period of time (such as during one evening), often with the intention of getting drunk. Although the number of drinks required to qualify as binge drinking varies depending on the source consulted, binge drinking often involves consuming a variety of different drinks, such as wine, beer, cocktails, shots and alcopops, and may include drinking games.
People who binge drink often do so as a group, viewing it as a fun, social activity, although participants will often end up engaging in quite antisocial behaviours as a result of intoxication. Binge drinking can also be a solitary activity if an individual sits alone drinking many drinks one after another.
The unglamorous side of binge drinking is that a heavy drinking episode often results in the binge drinker feeling sick and vomiting, waking up with a terrible headache, and not being able to remember events that happened during the binge.
Excessive alcohol consumption impairs judgement and coordination of body movements, leading to confusion and an inability to walk properly. This increases the drinker’s chances of having an accident, such as falling over and suffering cuts and bruises or broken bones, or falling in the road in front of a car. He or she may also take unnecessary risks not usually taken when sober, and become the victim of a sexually transmitted disease, an unwanted pregnancy, or a serious assault.
Binge drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning, which in turn affects the body’s involuntary reflexes. Breathing and heart rate may slow down and stop, and the gag reflex may fail to work properly causing choking and asphyxiation. Seizures, hypothermia, a ruptured bladder, coma and brain damage are also possible consequences of drinking too much alcohol too quickly.
Binge drinking regularly places stress on the liver and may lead to alcoholic liver disease, including alcoholic hepatitis and liver cirrhosis. Frequent binge drinking can also increase the risk of
Ø Kidney problems
Ø Skin problems
Ø Heart attack and stroke
Ø Lung, stomach and intestinal problems
Ø Weight gain and obesity
Ø Impaired brain function
Ø Cancer of the tongue, mouth, throat, liver and breast
Ø Birth defects in children born to women who drink heavily during pregnancy
Regular binge drinking can lead to disrupted sleep patterns, tiredness, mood swings and difficulty concentrating, as well as depression, anxiety and other mental health problems, including an increased risk of suicide. It can also increase the risk of developing a dependency on alcohol.
Drinking alcohol is a social pleasure enjoyed with friends, but it is important to remember that binge drinking can have serious health consequences. The key to enjoying alcohol without any ill effects is to drink in moderation and learn to realise when enough alcohol, is enough.
► Bupa. "Binge Drinking." (August 2009)
► TeensHealth. "Binge Drinking." (August 2009)