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Page medically reviewed by Claire Rimmer (BA (Hons), Dip.Psychology, FDAD (NCAC)), Lead Addiction Therapist at Priory Hospital Altrincham, in August 2022.

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What is Binge Drinking?  |  vs Alcoholism  |  Effects  |  How to Stop 

Heavy sessions of drinking are sometimes called a ‘binge’. In this article, we outline how much alcohol is classed as a binge, the effects it can have, and what you can do to stay safe when drinking alcohol.      

What is Binge Drinking?

According to the NHS, binge drinking is when you “drink heavily over a short period of time.” This can happen when you drink with the intention of getting drunk – which will typically result in you drinking a lot of alcohol in a short period.

But how much alcohol should be considered binge drinking? The UK government’s alcohol strategy suggests that anything exceeding six units of alcohol for women and eight units for men in a single day is classed as binge drinking. This is roughly equivalent to:

  • 3-4 pints of beer (4.5%)
  • 3-4 175ml glasses of wine (13%)
  • 6-8 25ml shots of spirits (40%)

bgine drinking guidelines chart

Alcohol statistics show that, in England, over a quarter of men (28.7%) and women (25.6%) binged alcohol on their heaviest drinking day of that year.  

Why do I binge drink alcohol?

People binge drink alcohol for a multitude of reasons, with some common causes being:

  • Social or societal pressure
  • Feeling nervous or anxious in social settings
  • Wanting to loosen inhibitions
  • Wanting to numb unhappy feelings
  • Attempting to distance themselves from stress, low mood and anxiety

People use binge drinking as an unhealthy coping strategy to try and manage their negative emotions. However, alcohol use only ever numbs or mutes these emotions in the short term, rather than helping the person to effectively deal with the root cause of these feelings.

Is binge drinking alcoholism?

 There is no definitive answer as to whether someone’s binge drinking can be classed as alcoholism, but if someone is binge drinking regularly and displaying symptoms of alcohol addiction, then it could indicate a dependency.

Some of those key symptoms might be:

  • Continuing to drink despite the negative impact that their alcohol use has on themselves and other people
  • Becoming unable to function normally and incapable of carrying out their usual responsibilities
  • Being unable to control their alcohol intake, often drinking more than they originally intended to in a single session
  • Using alcohol as an unhealthy coping mechanism, perhaps to deal with certain thoughts, memories or emotions
  • They experience significant, persistent long-term health problems as a result of their drinking

Effects of Binge Drinking

The negative effects of alcohol are well documented. Drinking heavily can have an impact on your physical and mental health in both the short and long-term.

Short-term

After binge drinking, you are more at risk of a range of physical issues. You might experience things like poor vision, an inability to concentrate, or reduced reaction times. You can also suffer from blackouts. These are periods of short-term memory loss, where you wake up the next day and can’t remember what happened the night before.

Binge drinking also leaves you at risk of alcohol poisoning, which can have a wide range of damaging effects on your physical health. Your mental health can also be affected in the short-term. As a depressant, alcohol can lower your mood and make negative emotions worse. Drinking can lead to hangxiety, which is mix of a hangover and anxiety.

Long-term

Consistent binge drinking over a long period of time can lead to a variety of issues with your physical health. It may increase your risk of liver damage, various types of cancer, high blood pressure and even brain damage.

Mentally, alcohol can have a lasting impact too. For example, the connection between alcohol and depression is well established. It leaves around 60% of people in alcohol treatment also needing mental health treatment.

Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Niall Campbell on the effects of binge drinking:

“Drinking to get drunk is dangerous, and cannot be a worse strategy. It can quickly become habitual, and as drink is a depressant, it will have an effect on your mental as well as physical health. I see it all the time in my patients.

“We need to transform the way we talk about alcohol so we all understand exactly how much we are drinking – and what it is doing to us." 

How to Stop Binge Drinking

Have a strategy for cutting down

We know how hard it can be to reduce your alcohol consumption, but with a clear plan and some effective strategies, you can cut down on how much you drink. Here are just a few things you could introduce next time you think you could be heading for a binge drinking session:

  • Have an exit plan – if you’re heading out, pre-book a taxi or other method of getting home before you go. This way, you can head home safely before your drinking has the chance to get out of hand
  • Suggest socialising without alcohol – if you find your socialising always seems to revolve around drinking, try to suggest a non-alcohol based activity instead
  • Track your drinking – write down when and why you tend to binge drink It’s likely that you’ll start to see patterns emerge in your behaviours and emotions that lead to you binge drinking. Learning to address these  could help you to cut down on your drinking
  • Set some targets – goal setting can be really effective. Set some targets for drinking less next time you head out, and you might be surprised at how motivated you are to hit them

Visit your GP

If you’re worried about your drinking habits, book an appointment with your GP. While the idea of talking to someone about your binge drinking may be scary and even embarrassing, it’s an important step to take.

Your GP will be there to support you. They will be able to provide you with advice on how to stop binge drinking and cut down on your alcohol consumption. They may also be able to recommend support groups.

Find a support group

If you’re looking to stop binge drinking, it’s important to know that you’re not alone in your journey. You might be surprised at how many people near you are having similar struggles. Many people find it helpful to share their stories and listen to others who are struggling.

You could look for a support group in your area, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), where you can share your experiences, gain strength from others and receive ongoing support from your peers.  

Seek specialist treatment

If your drinking is negatively affecting you and those around you, then it’s important that you consider reaching out for specialist treatment for addiction. Due to the many effective treatments available for those battling alcohol dependency, it’s possible for you to make significant strides in your recovery. With the right level of support, you can regain control of your life.

Common treatments include:

  • Alcohol detoxification – rid your body of addictive substances with a medically assisted detoxification from alcohol
  • Residential alcohol addiction treatment – places you in an environment designed to aid in addiction recovery on a residential basis for up to 28 days, where you engage in treatments such as therapy, support groups and wellbeing activities aimed at long-term recovery
  • Therapy – deal with underlying issues that may be fuelling your drinking, recognise triggers, learn to manage feelings and process past events in therapy on a 1:1 or group basis
  • Aftercare and secondary care – support groups that refresh what you’ve learned in treatment and create a ‘soft landing’ that helps you to cope with any triggers and temptations 

World Class Alcohol Addiction Treatment at Priory

Priory offers a free addiction assessment at one of our treatment centres within our nationwide network. This assessment gives our team an opportunity to find out more about your circumstances and the severity of your drinking so that they can recommend the most effective form of treatment for you.

At Priory, our treatment programmes for people with alcohol issues can take place in the form of residential treatment, day care packages or outpatient treatment. Each type of treatment will be delivered by an expert team of therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists and other compassionate experts in treating addictions.

With access to the correct treatment, you have the opportunity to recognise the reasons for your binge drinking and work towards a new phase of your life.

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World-class treatment for addictions makes recovery possible with Priory. Book a FREE ADDICTION ASSESSMENT or call us on 0800 840 3219 to speak to one of our compassionate team today.

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