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What is Binge Drinking?The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines binge drinking as consuming four or more drinks in a 2-hour period for females and five or more drinks in a 2-hour period for males. According to the CDC, binge drinking is the most common, costly, and deadly pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States. Although a night of heavy drinking may help us temporarily distract from our problems, research shows that the long-term consequences far outweigh the benefits. According to the researchers at MGH, the effects of this spike in binge drinking will lead to 8,000 deaths from alcohol-related liver disease and 18,700 new cases of liver failure by 2040. Alcohol lowers serotonin levels, the neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. Therefore, binge drinking can lead to worsening depression and anxiety. Drinking heavily to cope with stress is actually counterproductive. It can make problems caused by the pandemic seem ten times worse!
Monitoring Your Drinking HabitsWith so much social isolation and happy hours on Zoom, it makes sense that many of us would reach for a drink more often. While an occasional glass of wine to unwind might be harmless, using alcohol to cope with stress on a regular basis can have many unintended health consequences. It’s a good idea to be aware of how much alcohol you’re drinking during times of stress. To keep within safe drinking levels, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recommends no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two drinks a day for men. A standard drink is labeled as 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine, or 1.5 oz. of distilled liquor. There are tools available to help you assess your drinking habits. An online blood alcohol concentration calculator can help estimate blood-alcohol levels based on gender, weight, and the amount and type of alcohol consumed. There are also smartphone apps that may be helpful. The “Reframe: Drink Less and Thrive More” app uses evidenced-based cognitive tools to help users contemplate their drinking levels and make meaningful changes.
When Drinking Becomes a ProblemThe Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) outlines criteria to help you determine if your drinking has become more indicative of an alcohol-use disorder. If you are worried about yourself or a loved one, here are some questions to ask:
- Do you feel a loss of control over your alcohol use?
- Do you have a desire to stop drinking or cut back but feel unable to do so?
- Do you use alcohol in high-risk situations, like driving?
- Do you spend more time than you used to obtaining alcohol, drinking, or recovering from its effects?
- Do you need more alcohol than you used to in order to get a “buzz”?
- When not drinking, do you experience cravings, sweats, or nausea?
- Are you continuing to drink despite the problems it is causing at school, work, or at home?