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Binge Drinking

Binge Drinking: Definition, Effects, and How To Stop

June 6, 2023
24 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 6, 2023
24 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.
June 6, 2023
24 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 6, 2023
24 min read
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Reframe Content Team
June 6, 2023
24 min read

It's a Friday night, and you're out with friends at your favorite restaurant. The atmosphere is buzzing, music is pumping, and laughter fills the air. The excitement is contagious, and it's easy to get wrapped up in the moment. 

It would be so easy to have another drink, and maybe even another. After all, that’s what your friends are doing; only an hour into the night, they’re already at least a few drinks in. But you … no. You take a moment to pause, breathe, and reflect.

Binge drinking — drinking large amounts of alcohol within a short period — may seem like a harmless way to have fun. However, its immediate dangers can be serious. 

In this blog, we’ll first provide a binge drinking definition. We’ll then delve into the dangers of binge drinking, both the immediate and long-term effects. Finally, we’ll provide tips on breaking free from unhealthy drinking patterns and reclaiming your health. Let’s get started on the facts about binge drinking! 

What Is Binge Drinking?

For starters, what is considered binge drinking? How common is it?

Definition of Binge Drinking

Binge drinking entails consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time, typically within two hours. For men, this means drinking five or more alcoholic drinks, and for women, four or more drinks. 

How Common is Binge Drinking? 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binge drinking is the most common and the most dangerous pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States. This pattern of drinking can lead to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher, which is the legal driving limit across the United States. Binge drinking is not only about the number of drinks consumed but also the speed at which they are consumed, leading to rapid intoxication and increased health risks.

Facts About Binge Drinking

Most Americans drink occasionally, but around one-sixth of American adults report frequent binge drinking, with episodes occurring multiple times within a month. When adults binge drink, they typically have around seven drinks.

Young adults under the age of 35 are also more prone to binge drinking compared to other age groups, and men are twice as likely to binge drink as women.

Symptoms of Binge Drinking

Binge drinking can become a problem if it's affecting your work, relationships, or school. Besides the amount and frequency of drinks, you should look out for these signs:

  • Drinking more alcohol than intended
  • Increasing frequency of drinking
  • Drinking early in the day
  • Becoming defensive about your drinking habits
  • Struggling to cut back or quit drinking
  • Needing more amounts of alcohol to have the same effects
  • Missing out on other activities due to drinking
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
  • Having memory lapses or "blackouts" 

Short-Term Effects of Binge Drinking

First, let’s take a look at several of the immediate impacts of binge drinking.

Impaired Judgment and Coordination

Binge drinking can significantly impair a person’s judgment, coordination, and reaction time. This increases the risk of accidents, injuries, and engaging in risky behaviors such as unprotected sex, drug use, or driving under the influence. Research has shown that binge drinkers are 14 times more likely to drive while impaired than non-binge drinkers.

Hangovers and “Hangxiety”

The morning after binge drinking, people often experience hangovers, including headache, nausea, fatigue, and dehydration. These symptoms can be severe and may last for hours or even days. Hangovers can also affect a person’s ability to concentrate and perform daily tasks, leading to decreased productivity and poor decision-making. As the brain rebalances its neurotransmitters, many people also experience intense anxiety along with their hangover symptoms, which is sometimes called “hangxiety.”

Violence and Aggression

Binge drinking leads to an increased risk of violence and aggression, both as a perpetrator and as a victim. Alcohol impairs judgment and lowers inhibitions, making people more likely to engage in aggressive behaviors or become involved in violent situations.

Dangers of Binge Drinking

Binge drinking can be dangerous, increasing our risk for alcohol poisoning and blackouts.

Increased Risk of Alcohol Poisoning

Consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short period can lead to alcohol poisoning, a potentially life-threatening condition. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include confusion, vomiting, seizures, slow or irregular breathing, hypothermia, and unconsciousness. If not treated promptly, alcohol poisoning can lead to coma, brain damage, or death. In the United States, an average of six people die from alcohol poisoning each day; the majority are middle-aged men.


During a blackout, a person may continue to function and engage in activities but will have no memory of what occurred during that time. Blackouts are a common consequence of binge drinking and can lead to dangerous situations, such as engaging in risky behaviors without any recollection of the events. Research has shown that approximately 50% of binge drinkers have experienced blackouts; women are more susceptible due to differences in alcohol metabolism.

If you or someone you know are experiencing these symptoms of binge drinking, make sure to seek professional help or call 911 for immediate medical care. 

Why Do People Binge Drink?

There are a variety of complex reasons why people might choose to binge drink. Alcohol has a long history in our culture and society, and certain factors can put us more at risk for binge drinking behaviors. 

Social and Cultural Factors

Binge drinking is often embedded in our social and cultural contexts. Social norms and peer pressures can significantly influence our drinking behaviors. In some cultures, alcohol is a central component of social gatherings and celebrations, thus normalizing many drinking behaviors. Peer influence, especially in younger adults, can lead to binge drinking because they are often pressured to “fit in.”

Psychological Factors

People may turn to binge drinking as a coping mechanism for stress, anxiety, or depression. Alcohol provides a temporary escape from negative emotions and situations. Moreover, people with certain personality traits, like impulsiveness or a tendency to seek high-risk behaviors, may be more prone to binge drinking.

Biological and Genetic Factors

Genetics can influence our predisposition for alcohol addiction and binge drinking. Genes affect how our body processes alcohol, which can make us more susceptible to its effects and leads to a higher risk of binge drinking.

Environmental Factors

Factors like availability of alcohol, advertising, and social attitudes towards drinking can contribute. Environments where alcohol is readily available and heavily promoted often encourage binge drinking behaviors.

Mental Health Issues

There is a strong correlation between mental health disorders and substance abuse, including binge drinking. Individuals with conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or PTSD may use alcohol to self-medicate, leading to unhealthy drinking patterns. A history of trauma or adverse experiences, especially in childhood, can also increase the likelihood of using alcohol as a coping mechanism

Long-Term Effects of Binge Drinking

Unfortunately, the consequences of binge drinking don’t stop in the subsequent hours or days. Here are just a handful of the most important long-term effects of binge drinking:

Alcohol Use Disorder

Binge drinking increases the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD), a chronic mental health disorder characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite negative social, occupational, or health consequences. AUD can have severe impacts on a person’s personal and work lives, and it may require professional treatment to overcome. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 28.6 million adults in the United States had AUD in 2021.

Liver Disease

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to liver damage and various liver diseases, including fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis that make the liver unable to clear toxins from the blood. Liver diseases can be life-threatening and may require medical intervention, including liver transplantation in severe cases. In the United States, alcohol-related liver disease is the leading cause of liver transplantation and is responsible for nearly 50% of all liver disease deaths.

Brain and Nervous System Damage

Binge drinking can lead to long-lasting changes in the brain and nervous system, affecting cognitive functions such as memory, learning, and decision-making. These changes can be particularly detrimental to young adults, whose brains are still developing. Research has shown that the long-term effects of binge drinking during adolescence can lead to reduced brain volume, decreased cognitive performance, and increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases later in life.

Cardiovascular Disease

Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, including high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease. These conditions can have severe health consequences and may be life-threatening. 

Mental Health Issues

Binge drinking has been associated with an increased risk of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, as well as negative impacts on sexual health. Alcohol can exacerbate existing mental health conditions and may interfere with the effectiveness of medications used to treat these disorders. Research has shown that people who binge drink are more likely to experience mental health and mood disorders and have a higher incidence of suicide attempts.

Weakened Immune System

Binge drinking takes a toll on your immune system. Excessive alcohol consumption weakens your body's ability to fight off infections and illnesses, leaving you more susceptible to diseases. It disrupts the balance of immune cells, making you more prone to infections like pneumonia and increasing the severity of the common cold. Maintaining a strong immune system is essential for overall health, making moderation in alcohol consumption a key factor in staying well.

Cancer Risk

There is a strong link between alcohol consumption and an increased risk of several types of cancer, including mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, breast, and colorectal cancer. The risk of cancer increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, alcohol is responsible for approximately 3.5% of all cancer deaths in the United States.

Gastrointestinal Dysfunction

Binge drinking can significantly disrupt the delicate balance of the gut microbiome, leading to issues like inflammation, impaired nutrient absorption, and increased risk of gastrointestinal diseases. Chronic alcohol consumption can also cause conditions like gastritis, ulcers, and even intestinal permeability, commonly known as "leaky gut syndrome," which can further compromise overall health and well-being. Maintaining a healthy gut through balanced nutrition and moderation in alcohol consumption is vital for optimal gastrointestinal function and overall well-being.

Harmful effects of binge drinking on the body. Learn more about the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption

Binge Drinking vs. Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD): What Are the Differences?

Understanding the differences between AUD and binge drinking is essential for identifying and addressing potential concerns. For instance, someone with AUD will often engage in binge drinking — but someone who binge drinks occasionally may not necessarily have AUD. 

Here are the main differences between these two concerning drinking behaviors:

  • Drinking patterns. The chief difference between AUD and binge drinking comes down to pattern. AUD involves consistent excessive drinking, often on a daily or frequent basis. In contrast, binge drinking is characterized by episodic heavy drinking and is typically intermittent. AUD is a chronic condition that can range from mild to severe. Furthermore, AUD can persist over a long period, causing significant negative impacts on multiple aspects of a person's life.

  • Loss of control. Individuals with AUD experience a loss of control over their alcohol consumption and find it challenging to cut back or stop drinking altogether. Binge drinkers may temporarily lose control during specific drinking episodes, but they can generally control their drinking habits outside of those occasions.

  • Cravings and dependence. People with AUD often experience strong cravings for alcohol and may develop physical and psychological dependence. Binge drinkers, on the other hand, may not experience the same intense cravings or dependence on alcohol.

  • Overall impact. AUD has wide-ranging impacts on our physical, mental, and sexual health, relationships, employment, and daily functioning. Binge drinking, while risky and harmful, may not have the same level of sustained negative effects as AUD. However, both can immediately lead to impulsive behaviors — such as drunk driving and unprotected sex — that can have lifelong consequences.

How To Stop Binge Drinking

The consequences of binge drinking are both severe and far-reaching, affecting every facet of our lives — from physical health to emotional well-being, and even social and professional relationships. The first step towards breaking free from this harmful pattern is acknowledgment. Once you recognize the toll that binge drinking is taking on your life, you’re already on the path to recovery. Here are some strategies to help you quit binge drinking and reclaim your health:

1. Set Clear Goals

Determine what you want to achieve, whether it's cutting back on alcohol or quitting altogether. Be clear about your objectives and write them down. Share these goals with someone you trust, who can help hold you accountable. (You can also share these goals with others on the same journey in the Reframe Forum.) 

2. Monitor Your Drinking Patterns

Keep a diary or use Reframe’s personalized Drink Tracker to keep track of the amount of alcohol you consume. This will give you a clearer picture of your drinking habits and help you identify triggers or situations that lead to binge drinking.

3. Practice Mindfulness

Taking a moment to pause, breathe, and reflect before you reach for another drink can help break the cycle of binge drinking. Mindfulness teaches you to become aware of your actions and gives you the chance to choose a healthier option.

4. Find Healthy Alternatives

Consider substituting non-alcoholic beverages like mocktails, herbal teas, or flavored water for alcoholic drinks. You can also divert the urge to drink by engaging in activities that bring you joy, such as reading, exercising, or spending time with loved ones.

5. Create a Support Network

Breaking free from binge drinking is easier with support. Talk openly about your struggles with friends and family who can offer emotional help. You may also consider joining a support group or seeking professional help.

6. Plan Ahead

Before attending social events where alcohol will be present, set limits on how much you’ll drink — and stick to them! Make a pact with a friend to help each other abstain or moderate drinking, or arrange for a sober ride home.

7. Learn To Say No

You don't have to accept a drink just because it's offered to you. Practice polite ways to decline alcohol, and don't be afraid to assert your boundaries.

8. Understand the Underlying Issues

Binge drinking is often a symptom of deeper emotional or psychological issues. Addressing these root causes through therapy can help you make long-lasting changes to your drinking habits.

9. Reward Yourself

Set milestones and celebrate when you reach them — but not with alcohol. Treat yourself to something you enjoy, whether it's a spa day, a new book, or a weekend getaway.

10. Seek Professional Help

If you find it challenging to quit binge drinking despite multiple attempts, it may be time to seek professional help. Options include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medications to reduce cravings, and detox programs.

11. Stay Committed

It's common to experience setbacks while trying to quit binge drinking, but don't be discouraged. Use setbacks as learning experiences, and stay committed to your goals.

By recognizing the dangers of binge drinking and taking active steps to change, you empower yourself to live a healthier, happier life. With the right mindset and tools, breaking free from binge drinking is entirely within your reach. 

Parting Thoughts

Binge drinking may be difficult to resist, especially in social settings where it often becomes the norm rather than the exception. But as we've discussed, both the immediate and long-term effects of binge drinking can have devastating impacts on your physical health, emotional well-being, and overall quality of life. These consequences should serve as a wake-up call, nudging you toward better choices and healthier habits.

While the road to recovery may be challenging, it is also incredibly empowering. Each step you take towards breaking free from binge drinking is a step closer to regaining control of your life. You don't have to go it alone — reach out to friends, family, or professionals who can offer support and guidance. You can also leverage the science-backed tools on our app to effectively change your drinking habits. 

The path to a healthier lifestyle begins with the conscious decision to change. By applying the actionable strategies outlined in this blog, you're not just improving your physical health; you're also opening the doors to emotional freedom and enhanced life satisfaction. Here's to a brighter, happier, and healthier you!

Summary FAQs 

1. What is binge drinking?

Binge drinking is the consumption of large amounts of alcohol in a short period, usually within two hours. For men, this is typically five or more drinks, and for women, it's four or more.

2. How does binge drinking affect my health?

Short-term effects include impaired judgment, alcohol poisoning, and increased risk of violence. Long-term effects can range from alcohol use disorder and liver disease to brain damage and increased cancer risk.

3. What is "hangxiety"?

"Hangxiety" refers to the intense anxiety some people experience along with their hangover symptoms after binge drinking.

4. What can I do to stop binge drinking?

Taking steps to understand triggers, using tracking apps (like Reframe!), attending support groups, or seeking professional guidance are all helpful ways to break the cycle.

5. Is binge drinking the same as alcohol use disorder (AUD)?

No, although binge drinking significantly increases the risk of developing AUD, they are not the same. AUD is a chronic disorder requiring ongoing treatment.

6. Are there gender differences in the effects of binge drinking?

Yes, women are generally more susceptible to the negative health impacts of binge drinking, including experiencing blackouts and faster intoxication.

7. Where can I get help for binge drinking?

Support is available through various channels, including healthcare providers, support groups, and substance abuse programs. Virtual resources such as Reframe can also provide guidance.

Break the Binge Drinking Cycle With Reframe!

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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