It’s no secret that alcohol is treated differently than other addictive substances. Alcohol has remained heavily associated with celebrations and relaxation in the lives of many adults, with excessive alcohol consumption being condoned under the ‘right’ circumstances. Due to the prevalence of alcohol use, its inherent risks are often overlooked or ignored. Despite alcohol’s availability and social acceptability, this go-to substance is one of the most highly addictive drugs. Alcohol alone accounts for approximately 95,000 deaths each year and its use is associated with a variety of other long-term health consequences 1.
While some level of alcohol consumption is considered safe by most public health professionals, studies have shown that excessive alcohol use is on the rise2.
Many factors influence the high levels of excessive alcohol use in the United States, one of the most concerning being the wide spread use of alcohol as a coping mechanism. Given the plethora of information available regarding the risks and consequences associated with excessive alcohol use, it may be hard to understand why society continues to rely so heavily on this substance.
Understanding what excessive alcohol use is, the risks associated with excessive alcohol use, and the potential long-term consequences, can help shift individual and societal perspectives regarding alcohol. Changing the way alcohol is viewed and consumed will go a long way in preventing the development of alcohol use disorders, chronic health conditions, and deaths associated with excessive consumption.
What is Excessive Drinking?
Excessive drinking refers to different categories of high-risk alcohol consumption including binge drinking, heavy drinking, high-intensity drinking, or any alcohol consumption by pregnant women or people under the age of 213. Excessive alcohol use is associated with short-term and long-term risks including an increased likelihood of developing an alcohol use disorder3. Additionally, the real impact of excessive alcohol use carries a heavy financial burden. According to a 2010 study, excessive alcohol use cost the United States approximately $249 billion2.
Fast Facts on Binge Drinking
Binge drinking is the most common form of excessive alcohol use in the United States2. So common that one in six US adults report episodes of binge drinking, with 25% of those individuals reporting binge use at least once per week2. This risky form of alcohol use remains popular among teens, young adults, and adults despite its proven association with significant physical, social, and financial consequences.
Binge drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as consuming enough alcohol to raise the blood alcohol concentration to a 0.08g/dL or higher, which usually occurs when men consume five or more drinks and women consume four or more drinks over a two hour period1.
While monitoring consumption is an easy way to spot binge alcohol use, other signs of binge drinking can include:
• Consuming large amounts of alcohol on the weekends or at social functions
• Experiencing blackouts while drinking
• Drinking more alcohol than intended , finding it difficult to stop drinking once you’ve started
Binge drinking occurs for many reasons. Some people may engage in binge drinking due to social pressures or as a way to manage stress and other uncomfortable emotions. Regardless of the reasons a person may choose to binge drink, the potential harm of the behavior is universal.
The short-term risks associated with binge drinking include4:
• Increased risk of physical injury – including motor vehicle accidents
• Higher levels of violence – including suicide, homicide, sexual assault, and IVP
• Alcohol Poisoning/Alcohol Overdose
• High risk sexual behaviors
Long-Term risks of binge drinking include4:
• Development of chronic diseases
• Increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder or alcohol dependence
• Hypertension, heart disease, stroke
• Digestive problems
• Liver Disease
• Various forms of cancers, including breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, and liver
• Mental health issues, development of depression and/or anxiety
• Social Issues, including familial strain, occupational concerns, and legal involvement
• Weakened immune system
Along with the consequences listed above, binge drinking has also been associated with a hefty financial toll. Studies have shown that binge drinking carries an economic toll of approximately $191.1 billion annually2. The costs are associated with expenses related to lost work productivity, health care fees, and criminal justice costs2.
Heavy Drinking and High-Intensity Drinking
Along with binge drinking, heavy drinking and high-intensity drinking are also forms of excessive alcohol use. While these types of excessive alcohol use are not as common, the risks associated with these forms of alcohol use are significant. Heavy drinking is defined as 8 or more drinks per week for a woman or greater than 15 drinks in a week for a man2. Alcohol consumption at levels twice or more the gender-specific amount for binge drinking is considered high-intensity drinking. This usually equates to about 10 or more drinks for a male or 8 or more drinks or a female on one occasion1.
Changing the Conversation
The reality is that despite the mounting evidence surrounding the harm associated with alcohol use, the general population continues to normalize alcohol use. In order to reduce the individual and societal consequences of excessive alcohol use a perspective shift is necessary. Consider your personal views on alcohol and take a look at your relationship with drinking are the risks really worth it?
While most people who use alcohol or excessively consume alcohol do not meet criteria for an alcohol use disorder, these patterns of drinking can indicate a problematic relationship with alcohol1. The real impact of excessive alcohol use can be irreversible. If there are suspicions that you or someone you care about has developed an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, it’s important to implement changes quickly. To learn more about how Greenbriar can help or to schedule a free assessment, (opens in a new tab)