By Cary Quashen
We often think of binge drinking as a young adult phenomena, one reserved for high school parties, college students, and spring and summer breaks. But according to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there are more than 38 million U.S. adults who binge drink an average of four times a month and the most drinks they consume on average is eight.
While many of us think of binge drinking as more common among young adults ages 18–34, of those age 65 and older who report binge drinking, they do so more often – an average of five to six times a month.
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It is also interesting to note that binge drinking is more common among those with household incomes of $75,000 or more, but the largest number of drinks consumed per occasion is significantly higher among binge drinkers with household incomes of less than $25,000 – an average of eight to nine drinks, the report said.
Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men on an occasion. Binge drinkers also put themselves and others at risk for many health and social problems, including car crashes, other unintentional injuries, violence, liver disease, certain cancers, heart disease, sexually transmitted diseases, and both unintended and alcohol–exposed pregnancies.
Drinking too much, including binge drinking, causes more than 80,000 deaths in the United States each year, making it the third leading preventable cause of death, Over half of these deaths result from injuries that disproportionately involve young people.
As a drug and alcohol counselor, I know that binge drinking causes a wide range of health, social and economic problems and this report confirms the problem is really widespread.
CDC scientists analyzed data on self–reports of binge drinking within the past 30 days for about 458,000 U.S. adults aged 18 years and older. The data were in the 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. The data used in this study included about 36,000 cell phone respondents.
It is alarming that binge drinkers are consuming so much alcohol with such regularity, but not surprising. Binge drinking by adults has a huge public health impact, and influences the drinking behavior of underage youth by the example it sets. I contend we need to reduce binge drinking by adults to prevent the immediate and long-term effects it has on the health of adults and youth.
It is possible that a round of binge drinking could lead to acute alcohol poisoning. But how many drinks at one sitting could kill you depends on many factors, including how big you are, what you consumed and how quickly you did it. When you get alcohol poisoning, alcohol depresses nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing and the gag reflex (which prevents choking). A fatal dose of alcohol will eventually stop these functions.
It is common for someone who drank excessive alcohol to vomit since alcohol is an irritant to the stomach. There is then the danger of choking on vomit, which could cause death by asphyxiation in a person who is not conscious because of intoxication.
You should also know that a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can continue to rise even while he or she is passed out. Even after a person stops drinking, alcohol in the stomach and intestine continues to enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body. It is dangerous to assume the person will be fine by sleeping it off. Critical signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning include mental confusion, stupor, coma, or person cannot be roused; vomiting; seizures; slow breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute); irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths) and hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, paleness.
Even if the victim lives, an alcohol overdose can lead to irreversible brain damage and or liver damage. Rapid binge drinking (which often happens on a bet or a dare for teens and young adults ) is especially dangerous because the victim can ingest a fatal dose before becoming unconscious.
Don’t be afraid to seek medical help for a friend who has had too much to drink. Don’t worry that your friend may become angry or embarrassed-remember, you cared enough to help. Always be safe, not sorry.
Alcoholism does not have to destroy your life or those you care about. Use this quiz to help determine if there is an alcohol problem in your life. This test is meant to be used as a starting point or as any type of healthcare recommendation.
TAKE THE SELF TEST
- Have you ever decided to stop drinking for a week or even a few days, but only to break your promise to yourself or your family? Yes_____ No_____
- Do you wish people would mind their own business about your drinking? Yes_____No_____
- Have you ever switched from one kind of drink or drug to another thinking that this would help you get “in control of your life”? Yes_____ No_____
- Do you ever drink in the morning? Yes_____ No_____
- Do you envy people who can use alcohol without getting into trouble? Yes_____ No_____
- Have you had problems connected with drinking during the past few months? Yes_____ No_____
- Has your drinking caused trouble in your family or at home during the past couple of months? Yes_____ No_____
- Do you ever try to get “extra” drinks at a party because you do not get enough? Yes_____ No_____
- Do you tell yourself you can stop using alcohol any time you want, even though you keep getting drunk when you do not want to? Yes_____ No_____
- Have you missed days of work or school because of your using alcohol? Yes_____ No_____
- Do you have “blackouts”, where you cannot remember when your drunk? Yes_____ No_____
- Have you ever felt that your life would be better if you did not use alcohol? Yes_____ No_____
Are you comfortable with your answers? If not, do you need help cutting back on your alcohol consumption? Are you tired of being sick and tired? If you answered yes to four or more of these questions, you may have a serious alcohol problem and should seek professional assistance.
Cary Quashen is a certified addiction specialist and the founder and president of ACTION Parent & Teen Support Programs and the ACTION Family Counseling Drug and Alcohol Treatment Centers. Quashen may be reached at (661) 713-3006. The ACTION Hotline number is 1-800-367-8336. ACTION Parent & Teen Support Group meetings meet at Canyon High School, Tuesday evenings at 7:00 p.m. in the A Building at the west end of the campus.