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Binge Drinking

Why Do I Binge Drink?

October 6, 2023
9 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 6, 2023
9 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 6, 2023
9 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.
October 6, 2023
9 min read
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Reframe Content Team
October 6, 2023
9 min read

It’s a Saturday night, and you’re out to dinner with some friends. You’ve promised yourself you’re only going to have one drink with your meal, so you order a glass of wine. Pretty soon, the waitress comes back around and asks if you want another glass. You think to yourself, “I’ll just have one more.” Pretty soon one glass of wine turns into four. 

If you’ve ever wondered why you binge drink, you’re not alone. Even though it’s incredibly dangerous, binge drinking — or consuming large amounts of alcohol within a short period of time — is very common in the United States. In fact, about 60 million people (21.5%) in the U.S. reported binge drinking during the past month. Even moderate or occasional drinkers account for many cases of binge drinking.

So why do so many of us find ourselves binge drinking? 

The Neuroscience of Binge Drinking

Before we explore the potential reasons for binge drinking, let’s first look at alcohol’s effect on the brain. Research indicates that certain brain circuits seem to be activated during a drinking binge. One study in particular discovered that turning off a circuit between two brain regions — the amygdala and the ventral tegmental area (VTA) — might reduce instances of binge drinking. 

Here’s how it works: our amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for emotional processing, has long been associated with psychological stress and anxiety. The VTA is a pleasure center that responds to the rewarding properties of natural reinforcers, such as food, but also to the addictive properties of drugs and alcohol.

Researchers found that these two areas of our brain are connected by long projection neurons that produce a substance called corticotropin releasing factor (CRF). Alcohol seems to activate the CRF neurons in the extended amygdala, which directly affects the VTA. In other words, whenever we drink alcohol, CRF neurons activated in the amygdala act on the VTA to promote continued and excessive drinking, culminating in a binge. 

Furthermore, a recent study indicates that some people have lower levels of a channel in the VTA that promotes the release of dopamine; because of this difference, they need to drink more alcohol to produce its pleasurable effects. 

The Psychology of Binge Drinking

Since we’re all unique, our specific reasons for binge drinking will always vary widely from person to person. However, certain factors play a role in causing us to binge drink. Here are some: 

  • Personality factors: Research indicates that certain personality traits can make us more prone to engage in binge drinking. For instance, if we’re highly impulsive, we may be more likely to reach for another drink without stopping to think about the consequences. Or if we like novel situations, we might be more willing to engage in risky drinking habits. 

    Furthermore, people with an anxious predisposition and those suffering from anxiety disorders are also more vulnerable to binge drink. They might use alcohol to cope with social anxiety to feel confident talking, flirting, or making jokes with strangers. 
  • Social factors: Research shows that drinking seems more pleasurable when someone consumes alcohol along with other drinkers. This perception of increased pleasure can lead to a pattern of binge drinking if our friends or those around us are also drinking.

    Furthermore, peer pressure can also play a role in drinking to excess. Even older adults can find it hard to turn down “one more drink” when they’re out having fun with friends. 
  • Emotional factors: Many people use binge drinking to self-medicate their emotional and mental stress, depression, anxiety, boredom, or loneliness. We might turn to alcohol as a way to relax after a difficult day at work or to cope with uncomfortable feelings or difficult life events. Sadly, binge drinking can exacerbate mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression.

    Furthermore, our attitude toward drinking can have a major effect on our alcohol consumption. For instance, research indicates that many drinkers go on binges because they believe that rapid intoxication will provide them with benefits such as lowered personal inhibitions, easier social interactions, and a sense of social bonding with peers.

The Connection Between Binge Drinking and Alcohol Misuse

Even if we don’t regularly binge drink, the occasional binging is harmful, putting us at greater risk for alcohol poisoning, accidents and injuries, and alcohol-induced blackouts.

While only 10% of people who binge drink struggle with alcohol dependence, the more frequently we binge drink, the more at risk we are of developing an alcohol misuse problem. This can be a gradual process that we might not even notice right away. 

But, as we build a tolerance to alcohol, we may find ourselves needing to drink more and more to feel the same effects. We may begin to binge drink more often, and the days we abstain from alcohol become few and far between. Here are some signs we might have a binge drinking problem:

  • We drink more than we intend
  • We have a hard time cutting ourselves off once we start drinking
  • We frequently experience blackouts
  • We feel guilty or ashamed about how much we drink
  • Our mental health problems worsen after drinking
  • We engage in reckless behavior

Over time, binge drinking has long-term effects on our health, increasing our risk for liver disease, brain damage, cardiovascular disease and cancer. 

The Bottom Line

People binge drink for a variety of reasons, from trying to calm their nerves to getting caught up in a social situation with an endless flow of drinks. Still, some of us might be more prone to binge drinking than others. The good news is that we can learn how to stop binge drinking and develop healthier drinking habits. This usually starts by identifying conscious and subconscious triggers that are causing us to drink too much. 

Reframe can help. We’ve helped millions of people cut back on their alcohol consumption and become healthier and happier in the process. 

Build Healthier Drinking Habits 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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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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