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Alcohol and Health

The Dangers of Drinking Games

October 26, 2023
10 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
October 26, 2023
10 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
October 26, 2023
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
October 26, 2023
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Reframe Content Team
October 26, 2023
10 min read

Beer Pong. Flip Cup. Quarters. Never Have I Ever. 21. Most Likely. The Beer Pressure Game. And the list goes on. Chances are that we’re not only familiar with at least one of these drinking games, but have actually played one before. 

In fact, an overwhelming majority of Americans — 95%— have played a drinking game at some point in their life, according to an American Addiction Centers online survey of more than 1,000 Americans aged 18 and older. There are even drinking games based on movies: The Hangover drinking game and the Home Alone drinking game.

While these might seem fun and innocent, they can actually be extremely detrimental to our health — and even result in hospitalization and death. In fact, several years ago, five people died from Neknominate, a drinking game that went viral on social media. What is it about drinking games that makes them so dangerous? Let’s dive in below.

The Real Point of Drinking Games

Many people are introduced to drinking games in high school or college as a way to socialize. The idea is to have fun with others by drinking alcohol and engaging in some friendly competition. Great, right?

What’s actually happening with a drinking competition, though, is that we’re consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. And while each game has different rules of play, the intention is usually the same: to get each other drunk. 

But because drinking games are often played in a social setting, it’s easy to get swept up in the peer pressure and excitement of the games — especially for young adults. In fact, research from 2019 found that 60% of 18-34 year olds believe peer pressure to drink is common, with this age group also the most likely to say they have drunk more than expected to “keep up” with others.

Avoid the risks of drinking games. Drink responsibly and stay safe

Why Drinking Games Are Dangerous

While most people think these games are harmless fun, they can be extremely dangerous. After all, they’re largely designed to facilitate inebriation by promoting the rapid consumption of large amounts of alcohol. For instance, playing the game Flip Cup, our blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can reach .05 in 10 minutes and up to .15 in just a span of 30 minutes. At this level, we can experience amnesia, vomiting, or a loss of consciousness. 

While the short-term effects of intoxication are obvious, other social, health and safety risks can also occur. Here are several:

  • Causes binge drinking. We probably don’t think of them this way, but drinking games are actually a form of binge drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as consuming 4 drinks in about 2 hours for women and 5 drinks in about 2 hours for men. Drinking alcohol in these amounts in that short time period can bring our blood alcohol concentration (BAC) up to 0.08, which is considered legally impaired in the U.S.

    By definition, most drinking games are binge drinking since the rules of the game encourage us to drink large amounts of alcohol quickly. Binge drinking can lead to immediate and long-term health and safety risks, including blackouts, alcohol poisoning, unsafe sexual behavior, injuries from falling, drowning, car crashes, as well as immune system dysfunction.
  • Increases risk of alcohol poisoning. Drinking too much, especially in short time spans, can lead to alcohol poisoning and hospitalization. When we’re engaged in a competitive, high-energy drinking game, we can easily lose track of how much we’re drinking. An excessive level of alcohol in our blood can lead to signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning such as vomiting, fainting, low body temperature, irregular breathing, and seizures.

    With alcohol poisoning, our liver is simply unable to process the toxins from alcohol quickly enough. Our body continues to ingest these toxins as the drinking game progresses, and we end up exhibiting signs of extreme drunkenness as our BAC levels rise. Alcohol poisoning is a very serious condition that requires medical attention.
  • Risky behavior. Drinking games make us drunk, and whenever we’re drunk, we lose our ability to think clearly. Alcohol impairs our judgment and decision-making capabilities, and it lowers our inhibitions. As a result, we’re more likely to get involved in risky situations, whether that means getting into a fight, driving drunk, having unprotected sex, or committing (or being the victims of) sexual assault.

    Sadly, 44 percent of young men admitted their goal in playing drinking games was to have sex. And one-fifth reported taking sexual advantage of another player after a drinking game. Long-term consequences of these risky situations can include pregnancy, STIs, arrest, jail, loss of job, or general legal problems.
  • Alcohol use disorder. While participating once or twice in a social drinking game might not be cause for alarm, if we’re frequently binge drinking, we have a higher risk of developing alcohol use disorder. In fact, according to one study, game playing appeared to increase problems related to alcohol primarily among more moderate drinkers.

    Interestingly, people who start drinking as teens (before age 15) are four times more likely to develop an alcohol/substance use disorder than those who begin drinking at age 21. Over time, excessive alcohol consumption can cause a number of health issues, such as high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, arrhythmia (irregular heart beat), stroke, and pancreatitis, among others.

The Bottom Line

Although many of us play drinking games on our way to adulthood, they’re far from harmless fun. Their competitive nature distracts us from knowing how much we’re drinking, causing us to drink more than we intend or realize. This increases our risk of accidents, alcohol poisoning, and other harmful consequences. 

Drinking alcohol is very much embedded in our culture. At nearly every social gathering, alcohol is usually involved, which might lead to drinking games. But we can choose not to participate. At Reframe, we not only help you rethink your relationship with alcohol, but we give you the tools you need to successfully navigate social situations without drinking. Even if you’re just looking to cut back on your drinking, Reframe can help.

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