Binge drinking is when a person consumes enough alcoholic beverages during a 2-hour period to bring their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08% or higher. Typically, this means four drinks for women and five drinks for men.

Binge drinking can lead to several short-term and long-term effects. Someone who binge drinks may experience impaired judgment, nausea, vomiting, and even unconsciousness. Over time, a binge drinker is at a higher risk for severe health problems such as liver disease, pancreatitis, and certain types of cancers.

There are several options available for people who currently binge drink. These may help them gain control of their drinking habits or even stop drinking altogether. Some options may include finding replacement activities or seeking professional help.

This article explains some of the health risks associated with binge drinking, tips to reduce those risks, and ways people can get help to control their drinking.

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Binge drinking is a type of excessive drinking, where people consume a large quantity of alcohol in a short period of time.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking alcohol, typically within a 2-hour period, which brings a person’s BAC to 0.08% or higher. A person’s BAC is the percentage of alcohol in their blood, and in the United States, a BAC of 0.08% means the person is legally intoxicated.

Bodies absorb alcohol at different rates. How quickly a person’s body absorbs alcohol may depend on their sex, age, and body size. But it typically takes four or more standard drinks for women and five or more standard drinks for men to reach a BAC of 0.08% during a 2-hour binge drinking period.

For reference, a standard drink in the U.S. is equal to 0.6 ounces (oz) of pure alcohol. Common beverages that contain this amount of pure alcohol include:

  • 12 oz of beer (5% alcohol content)
  • 8 oz of malt liquor (7% alcohol content)
  • 5 oz of wine (12% alcohol content)
  • 1.5 oz or a “shot” of 80-proof liquor (40% alcohol content)

While binge drinking seems a common trend among young adults aged 18–34, it is also a growing trend among older adults.

For example, a 2018 meta-analysis found a significant increase in alcohol use and binge drinking over the past 10–15 years, but not among all demographics. It was middle-aged and older adults who showed the most substantial increase in binge drinking. That increase may be contributing to the increasing rates of alcohol-related illnesses and death.

Keep in mind that binge drinking is not the same as alcohol use disorder (AUD). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 90% of people who drink excessively do not meet the criteria for AUD. But that does not mean binge drinking is a healthy habit to keep up or that it will not lead to AUD over time.

Some short-term health effects and risks of binge drinking can include:

Over time, regular binge drinking can increase the risk of certain chronic diseases or other serious long-term problems, including:

Additionally, a 2017 study suggests that binge drinking may be an early risk factor of developing AUD. For example, a 2018 cross-sectional study found a strong relationship between adolescents who binge drink and developing AUD.

People who want to get help for binge drinking may consider doing the following:

  • Talking with their doctor about how much they drink and request help from a therapist.
  • Asking friends and family for support when they are in a situation likely to lead to binge drinking.
  • Finding activities to replace binge drinking.
  • Setting limits on when, where, and how much alcohol they will drink during a given time or event.
  • Consider quitting drinking alcohol altogether. This may involve joining support groups or programs.

Additionally, anyone who feels they are not able to gain control of their drinking might consider the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline.

The service is free and available 24 hours a day year-round. The National Helpline does not provide counseling, but it does connect callers with local resources such as counseling services, support groups, and treatment facilities.

Click here to learn how to help a person with AUD.

It is possible to enjoy alcohol without overindulging. If a person chooses to drink, they could try:

  • Setting a limit on the number of drinks they will consume. For example, the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults of drinking age consume no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women.
  • Spacing out the drinks. Alternating alcoholic drinks with water may help space out drinks as well as help keep a person hydrated.
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages slowly.
  • Drinking with food. Not only may drinking with food help a person drink slower, but it may also keep the alcohol from passing too quickly into their small intestines.
  • Trying to avoid risky places and have a plan on when to leave and how to get home safely. According to the CDC, 29 people die every day in the U.S. in vehicle crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver.

Binge drinking is when someone drinks a large quantity of alcohol in a short amount of time. Many experts define it as drinking enough alcohol during a 2-hour period to bring the BAC to 0.08%. Generally, this is around four drinks for women and five drinks for men. But bodies absorb alcohol differently depending on factors including body type and age.

Impaired judgment, alcohol poisoning, and liver disease are just a few of the effects and risks associated with binge drinking. People can try to gain control of their drinking or quit altogether with help from family and friends, finding activities to replace drinking, and seeking professional help.