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Binge Drinking

How To Stop Binge Drinking: A Science-Backed Approach

June 3, 2022
32 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.
June 3, 2022
32 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
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.
June 3, 2022
32 min read
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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.
June 3, 2022
32 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Reframe Content Team
June 3, 2022
32 min read

Imagine this: you're at a social gathering. The music is setting the mood, the conversations are animated, and an open bar is offering all kinds of drinks. The pressure to drink — and drink a lot! — is real. For some of us, one drink leads to another, and before we know it, we’ve lost count. It’s more than just overindulging — it's binge drinking.

Binge drinking isn't about enjoying a drink responsibly; it's about consuming excessive amounts of alcohol in a short period. But the good news? There are science-backed strategies that can help you curb or quit this habit. Let's dive in and learn how to stop binge drinking!

What Is Binge Drinking?

We've all heard the term "binge drinking," but what exactly does it mean? At its core, binge drinking refers to the consumption of large quantities of alcohol in a short period, with the intent of becoming intoxicated. The exact number of drinks that goes into a binge can vary based on several factors, but according to CDC guidelines, for men, binge drinking typically means consuming five or more drinks within about two hours. For women, it’s about four or more drinks within the same timeframe.

Now, a "drink" is typically defined as 14 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol. What does this roughly equate to?

  • A 12-ounce beer
  • A 5-ounce glass of wine
  • A shot (1.5 ounces) of distilled spirits or liquor

How Common Is Binge Drinking?

How many people are actually binge drinking? Is it common enough to raise concerns? The answer might surprise you.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in six U.S. adults binge drinks, and about a quarter of them do so weekly. That tallies up to a whopping 17 billion total binge drinks consumed by adults annually!

While nobody is immune to binge drinking, some demographic groups are particularly vulnerable. Recognizing these patterns can help tailor strategies for those at a higher risk, so let's peek into the patterns of binge drinking across different demographics:

  • College students: more than just “university life.” One of the most talked-about groups when discussing binge drinking is college students. It's often seen as a rite of passage or an integral part of the "college experience.” Approximately 4 out of 10 college students report binge drinking at least once in the past month. And this is in spite of the fact that out of 19 million college students across the country (a 2018 SAMHSA statistic), 9 million are under the legal drinking age of 21! 

    What’s behind the alarming trend? Not every college student binge drinks. Many choose not to, or are looking for ways to navigate college life without succumbing to the pressure. For those who do, binge drinking is often attributed to factors like peer pressure, newfound freedom, stress, and the prevalent party culture. 
  • Gender disparities: men vs. women. While binge drinking is a concern across the board, gender does play a role: according to the CDC, men consume 4 out of 5 binge drinks. However, the risks associated with binge drinking can be higher for women due to factors like body composition and metabolism.
  • Older adults aren’t exempt. Binge drinking is not just a "youth problem" — it’s something that spans across age groups. Although younger adults, especially those in the 18-34 age bracket, are more likely to binge drink, the CDC reports that over half of the total binge drinks consumed are by those aged 35 and older.

The Dangers of Binge Drinking

Binge drinking isn’t just a matter of letting loose or having fun — it comes with a host of risks, from social consequences to physical, mental, and emotional health.

1. Immediate Physical Consequences

After a night of binge drinking, the short-term effects can entail more than just a hangover:

  • Accidents and injuries. Impaired judgment can lead to falls, car crashes, burns, and other unintended injuries.
  • Alcohol poisoning. Consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period can overload the body, leading to vomiting, unconsciousness, difficulty breathing, and, in severe cases, death.
  • Impaired decision making. Alcohol can cloud judgment, leading to risky behaviors like unprotected sex, which can result in unintended pregnancies or sexually transmitted infections.

2. Long-Term Health Risks

While the immediate consequences can be alarming, the extended dangers of binge drinking can slowly creep into our lives:

  • Brain health. Chronic binge drinking can interfere with the brain’s pathways, affecting cognitive functions and potentially leading to long-term memory and learning issues.
  • Liver diseases. The liver breaks down alcohol, but excessive drinking over time can cause fatty liver, hepatitis, and even cirrhosis.
  • Heart health. Binge drinking can lead to increased blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, and a higher risk of ischemic strokes and cardiovascular diseases.
  • Cancer risk. There's a link between binge drinking and an increased risk of certain cancers, including mouth, throat, liver, breast, and colon cancer.

3. Mental and Emotional Impacts

Beyond the physical realm, binge drinking can cast shadows on our mental and emotional health:

  • Mental health issues. Chronic binge drinkers may experience mood disturbances, increased anxiety, and even symptoms of depression.
  • Dependency and addiction. Regular binge drinking paves the way for alcohol dependence, in which people feel a compulsive need to drink and find it challenging to control their consumption.

4. Societal and Relationship Impacts

The ripple effects of binge drinking can spread outwards, touching various facets of our lives:

  • Strained relationships. Excessive drinking can strain relationships with friends and family, leading to conflicts and breakdowns in communication.
  • Work and academic performance. Binge drinking can cause lapses in concentration, frequent absences, and decreased performance, affecting our professional and academic life.
  • Legal issues. Driving under the influence or engaging in risky behaviors can result in legal troubles, which come with their own set of challenges.

The Brain and the Binge 

The brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, when we drink. Over time, with frequent and heavy drinking, the brain starts to associate alcohol with a quick dopamine boost. This can make it challenging to resist the urge to binge.

But remember, our brain is incredibly adaptable! With time and consistent effort, it can disconnect these associations and create new ones.

Knowledge is the First Step

Binge drinking's dangers might sound daunting, but being armed with this knowledge is the first step towards making informed decisions. Understanding the risks empowers us to evaluate our drinking habits and take proactive steps towards healthier choices. Remember, every individual's journey is unique, and it's never too late to start on a path towards well-being!

Get Inspired: The Benefits of Cutting Back or Quitting

Cutting back on or quitting binge drinking can lead to a range of benefits:

  • Improved sleep. Alcohol can interfere with the REM cycle, which is vital for restorative sleep. Without it, our sleep becomes deeper and more restful.
  • Better mental health. Less alcohol can mean fewer mood swings and a decrease in symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Physical health perks. Reduced risk of chronic diseases, better skin, and weight management are just a few benefits.

6 Action Steps To Stop Binge Drinking: A Science-Backed Guide

Alright, let’s dive into 6 steps that can set us on a healthier path:

1. Know Your Triggers: The Key to Mindful Decision-Making

When it comes to binge drinking, or any habit we'd like to change, awareness is half the battle. One of the most potent tools in this journey of self-awareness is understanding our triggers. Let's explore this concept further and delve into how we can identify and navigate triggers that might lead to excessive drinking.

What's a Trigger, Anyway?

A trigger is any external or internal cue that might push us towards a particular behavior — in this case, binge drinking. These cues can stem from emotions, environments, people, or even certain times of the day.

While everyone's triggers might be different, there are some usual suspects to keep on your radar:

  • Emotional triggers. Stress, anxiety, sadness, or even extreme joy can sometimes push people towards drinking as a way to cope or celebrate.
  • Social environments. Being in locations where alcohol is the primary focus — parties, bars, or certain gatherings — can often act as a trigger.
  • Peer pressure. If friends or acquaintances frequently encourage drinking, their influence might serve as a potential trigger.
  • Routine habits. Sometimes, the simple act of finishing a workday or watching a particular show can become associated with drinking, turning these routine activities into triggers.

To make a change, start by observing your triggers. Spend a week or two doing these things:

  • Keep a diary or note on your phone. 
  • Document moments you feel the urge to binge drink, even if you don't act on it.
  • Note down what happened right before the urge, how you felt, where you were, and who you were with.
  • After some days of logging, patterns might emerge. This record becomes a map of your personal triggers.

Crafting Strategies Around Your Triggers

Knowing your triggers is the foundation, but acting on this knowledge is where the magic happens.

  • Avoidance. If certain places or people consistently act as triggers, consider reducing your time with them, at least initially as you work toward change.
  • Emotional coping. If emotions drive your urge to drink, seek alternative coping mechanisms. This might mean deep breathing exercises, physical activity, or even speaking with a professional.
  • Replace with positives. If a routine is your trigger, replace the habit with a more positive one. For instance, if you typically drink after a long day, consider swapping the alcohol for a calming tea, a brisk walk, or a 15-minute nap.

Recognizing and understanding your triggers isn’t about blame — it's about empowerment. Every step you take in this journey of self-awareness is a step closer to a healthier, happier you!

2: Rethink Your Environment: Setting Up for Success

Another vital component in tackling binge drinking head-on is evaluating and adjusting our environment. Our surroundings can either serve as a safety net or a push towards old habits. Let's delve into how reshaping your environment can play a crucial role in our journey.

Our living space plays a more significant role in our habits than we might realize.

  • Alcohol visibility. Consider where you store alcohol in your home. Is it the first thing you see when you enter or in a prominent spot in the kitchen? Merely moving it to a less visible location or keeping it out of easy reach can reduce the frequency of impulsive drinking.
  • Stock alternatives. Ensure you have a variety of non-alcoholic beverages that you enjoy. Herbal teas, sparkling water, or even fun mocktail ingredients can offer a fulfilling alternative to alcohol.

Moreover, the people we surround ourselves with and the places we frequent can significantly influence our drinking habits.

  • Choose supportive companions. Surround yourself with friends and family who support your goal to reduce binge drinking. It's easier to make a change when you have a supportive tribe cheering you on!
  • Evaluate regular hangouts. If your usual spots are bars or other alcohol-centric venues, consider changing the mix. Explore cafes, parks, hobby clubs, or other non-alcohol-focused places.

Workplaces can sometimes be a hotbed for triggers, especially if there's a culture of post-work drinks or celebrations.

  • Lunchtime choices. If your colleagues often visit places where drinking at lunch is standard, suggest a new spot every once in a while or pack a fun lunch to eat at a nearby park.
  • Be prepared for celebrations. If your office often celebrates with alcohol, keep a non-alcoholic beverage on hand. When there's a toast, you can still participate without feeling left out.

The more time we spend online, the more likely our online environments can be triggers.

  • Social media filters. If you follow many accounts or groups that glorify binge drinking, consider unfollowing or muting them for a while.
  • Seek positive influences. Join online groups or follow accounts that promote a healthy lifestyle, share alcohol-free recipes, or offer tips on mindfulness and well-being.

Rethinking and reshaping our environment can pave the way for your success. With a bit of foresight and effort, our surroundings can become a catalyst for positive change!

3: Setting Limits and Pacing Ourselves

Taking charge of our drinking habits involves a combination of strategies. Among the most effective and empowering is setting boundaries ahead of time. Here’s how to go about it:

  • Decide beforehand. Before heading to a social event or settling down for an evening at home, decide how many drinks you'll have. Setting this intention before you start can act as a mental anchor.
  • Be specific. Instead of vague targets like "I'll drink less," opt for precise limits like "I'll have two drinks tonight."
  • Involve a buddy. If you’re heading out with friends, share your limit with a trusted buddy. This person can become your accountability partner, subtly reminding you of your goal throughout the evening.

It can also help to alternate booze with alcohol-free drinks. For every alcoholic drink, have a non-alcoholic one. By interspersing non-alcoholic drinks between the alcoholic ones, you naturally pace your alcohol consumption. Moreover, alcohol can dehydrate your body — by alternating, you ensure that you stay hydrated, which can also help reduce the intensity of a potential hangover.

Here are some tips for success:

  • Plan your non-alcoholic options. Think about enjoyable non-alcoholic alternatives. Sparkling water with a dash of lime, herbal teas, or mocktails can be delicious options.
  • Size matters. Ensure your non-alcoholic drink is in a similar-sized glass as your alcoholic one. This way, you still have a drink in hand, which can deter others from offering you more alcohol.
  • Adopt a rhythm. A simple strategy can be to follow an alcoholic drink with two non-alcoholic ones. Find a rhythm that suits you and stick to it.

Sometimes, the challenge with setting limits and alternating drinks arises from social pressures. Here's how to handle them:

  • Prep a response. If you suspect peers might coax you into drinking more, prepare a response. It can be as straightforward as "I’m pacing myself tonight," or "I have to drive later.”
  • Switch the focus. Engage in a fun activity, like dancing or striking up an intriguing conversation. When you're occupied, you're less likely to focus on drinking, and others are less likely to offer you more alcohol.

4: Reframing Our Understanding of Booze

Taking steps to change our relationship with alcohol involves more than just action — it starts with perception. The way we view alcohol often shapes our relationship with it. If we can shift our perspective by looking at drinking as a habitual pattern rather than a genuine source of pleasure, we can reshape that relationship in profound ways.

Most of our daily activities are rooted in habit. From the way we tie our shoes to our morning routine, these habits run on autopilot. Similarly, reaching for a drink in certain situations — like after a long day or during social gatherings — can also be a conditioned response. 

Science shows that the more we repeat a pattern, the more ingrained it becomes, setting in motion a cycle known as the habit loop. It often goes like this: a trigger (like a stressful event) leads to an action (drinking) and is followed by a reward (temporary relief). 

Recognizing this loop can be the first step in breaking it. Sure, there might be moments when that first sip feels good. But is it genuine pleasure or just a temporary reprieve?

While alcohol might momentarily mask discomforts — stress, anxiety, or boredom — it doesn’t truly resolve them, and the next day often tells a different story. The morning after a binge often comes with regret, headaches, and fatigue.

Questioning Alcohol’s Purpose

Many believe that alcohol serves as a bridge to relaxation, social connection, or even courage. But let’s look below the surface:

  • Relaxation or sedation? There's a difference between genuine relaxation and the numbing effects of alcohol.
  • Bonding over booze. Genuine connections are built on authentic interactions, not hazy, alcohol-fueled conversations.
  • Liquid courage. True courage comes from within, not from a bottle. Alcohol might temporarily mask fear, but it doesn't make that fear disappear.

Shifting the Paradigm

To reshape our relationship with alcohol, we must first redefine it in our minds. By recognizing binge drinking as a conditioned pattern rather than genuine pleasure, we can start to see alcohol for what it truly is: a temporary mask, not a true solution. Seeing through the illusion makes it easier to opt for healthier choices — and those choices become a natural progression in our quest for genuine well-being.

  • Mindful observation. Next time you drink, pay attention. Is the pleasure real or just an ingrained response to a trigger?
  • Visualize alcohol-free scenarios. Imagine social situations, relaxation times, or celebrations without alcohol. How would they look? Surprisingly, most of these moments can remain intact, and perhaps even be more enjoyable.
  • Question the norm. Just because something is widely accepted doesn't make it inherently good or beneficial. Challenge social norms and form your personal stance on alcohol.

5: Stay Connected: Embracing the Power of Community

Venturing on any journey of change, especially when it comes to habits like binge drinking, can be both rewarding and challenging. One thing's certain, though: we don’t have to walk this path alone. Staying connected with others and seeking help when we need it can be a game-changer! Moreover, when we share our goals and aspirations with others, they can often act as a gentle reminder or a nudge, ensuring we remain committed to our vision.

Here’s how you can harness the power of community and connection.

  • Join support groups. Numerous support groups — both offline and online — cater to people looking to change their relationship with alcohol. These spaces can be a great way to meet others with similar goals. Reframe is a great one to try!
  • Stay social. Engaging in social activities that aren't centered around alcohol can be refreshing. Consider joining a hobby club, attending community events, or taking a class.
  • Family and friends. Sometimes, the best support system is right under our nose. Sharing your goals with family and friends can transform them into pillars of support.

6: Different Types of Professional Help Available for Alcohol-Related Concerns

There's no shame in reaching out for professional help if you need it. If, despite your best efforts, you find yourself slipping back into binge drinking, it might be time to seek additional support.

Navigating the landscape of professional assistance can seem daunting at first, but knowing the variety of resources available can empower you to make informed choices. Here's a handy list to help guide you:

1. General Practitioners (GPs)

  • What they do. These primary care doctors can provide initial assessments, medical advice, and referrals to specialists if necessary.
  • Why you might seek them. They can help with concerns about the physical health impacts of binge drinking and provide a referral to a specialist or treatment program.

2. Addiction Psychiatrists

  • What they do. Psychiatrists are medical doctors specializing in mental health, including substance use disorders.
  • Why you might seek them. They can offer diagnoses, therapy, and medication management for individuals with alcohol-related challenges.

3. Psychologists and Therapists

4. Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselors (LADC)

  • What they do. Licensed counselors specialize in substance abuse therapy, offering counseling sessions and recovery strategies.
  • Why you might seek them. They offer counseling tailored specifically for alcohol and other substance issues.

5. Social Workers (With Clinical Specialization)

  • What they do. Social workers offer therapy and can connect us with community resources.
  • Why you might seek them. Reach out for therapeutic support and assistance navigating social and community-based resources.

6. Residential Treatment Centers

  • What they do. Treatment centers provide immersive, inpatient programs where individuals live onsite for a duration, receiving a combination of therapies, group sessions, and medical care.
  • Why you might seek them. Residential centers provide intensive, structured support in overcoming severe binge drinking habits or alcohol dependency.

7. Outpatient Treatment Programs

  • What they do. These programs are similar to residential treatment, but they allow people to live at home and attend programs during the day.
  • Why you might seek them. This could be a good option if you need structured treatment but also have commitments such as work, school, or family.

8. Support Groups (Like Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery)

  • What they do. Support groups offer peer-led group meetings where members share experiences, support each other, and work through structured programs.
  • Why you might seek them. Check them out to find a community of individuals with similar experiences, seeking mutual encouragement and understanding.

9. Telehealth Services and Online Support Groups

  • What they do. Online resources and groups provide therapy, counseling, or medical consultations over the phone or via video calls.
  • Why you might seek them. If you're looking for flexibility, confidentiality, or access to services from the comfort of your home, these options can work wonders. Reframe is a great place to start!

Professional support can make the journey feel less overwhelming. It's essential to find the right fit for your unique situation, so don't hesitate to explore different options and see which resonates most with your needs.

Summing Up

Stopping binge drinking isn’t just about willpower — it’s about understanding the science behind it and using that knowledge to our advantage. By recognizing triggers, setting limits, and seeking support, we can build a healthier relationship with alcohol. So the next time you find yourself at that social gathering, remember: you have the tools and strategies for how to stop binge drinking.

In many cultures and societies, there's an unwarranted stigma around seeking help. But reaching out doesn't indicate weakness — it's a testament to your strength and commitment to change. Whether it's leaning on friends, joining a support group, or seeking professional guidance, staying connected ensures that you have a strong network to lean on every step of the way.

Understanding the prevalence of binge drinking helps us realize that if someone's struggling with it, they're certainly not alone. It’s a widespread issue, but knowing this can be both a wake-up call and an encouragement to seek change. After all, if so many of us are facing the same challenge, that means there's also a large community out there to lean on for support and guidance.

Summary FAQs

1. What exactly is binge drinking?

Binge drinking is defined as consuming multiple drinks within a short time frame, typically leading to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher. This usually translates to five or more drinks for men, and four or more for women, in about 2 hours.

2. How does binge drinking differ among various demographics?

Binge drinking affects various demographics differently. For instance, it's notably prevalent among college students due to the party culture, peer pressure, and the novelty of alcohol. However, other populations, including certain professional groups and age demographics, aren't immune and may binge drink in response to stress or societal norms.

3. Are there any dangers associated with binge drinking?

Yes, binge drinking can lead to immediate risks like accidents, injuries, alcohol poisoning, risky behaviors, and impaired judgment. Additionally, over time, it can contribute to chronic health issues, relationship problems, and increased risk of addiction.

4. How can I identify my alcohol triggers?

Your triggers are specific events, feelings, or environments that make you inclined to binge drink. By being mindful and observant, you can identify common patterns, like drinking more when stressed or in certain social situations. Recognizing these triggers is a key step in managing and reducing your alcohol intake.

5. Can my environment influence my binge drinking habits?

Absolutely! Your environment, including the people you spend time with and the places you frequent, can either encourage or discourage binge drinking. By consciously choosing to be in alcohol-free spaces and with supportive peers, you can positively impact your drinking habits.

6. How can I effectively set limits on my alcohol consumption?

Start by defining clear boundaries for yourself. This could mean setting a strict drink limit for social events, choosing certain days to be alcohol-free, or even alternating alcoholic beverages with non-alcoholic ones to pace yourself.

7. What if I find it challenging to reduce binge drinking on my own?

It's okay to seek help. From support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery to professional assistance like therapists or addiction psychiatrists, there are numerous resources available to guide and support you on your journey. Remember, seeking help is a testament to your strength and commitment to change.

Ready to Stop Binge Drinking? Reframe Can Help!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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