When Binge Drinking Turns From Youthful Partying to Big Problem

May 13, 2020

Written by

Claudia Black Young Adult Center

Author Headshot



By Anna McKenzie

Because alcohol is not perceived to be as harmful as other drugs, binge drinking is fairly common. According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 51% of the population 12 and older reported binge drinking in the past month. Excessive alcohol use is more socially acceptable among young adults, who have fewer health issues and are less mindful of their mortality. Binge drinking is not the same as alcoholism, and therefore it also tends to escape being seen as a “problem.” However, binge drinking can have long-term negative effects and foster alcoholism, even if individuals feel like they’re able to function well in spite of their drinking patterns.

What Counts as Binge Drinking?

According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 51% of the population 12 and older reported binge drinking in the past month.

Binge drinking is defined by consuming a certain amount of alcohol within a short period of time. The CDC categorizes binge drinking as the increase in a person’s blood-alcohol level to 0.08 gd/l or above. But just how many drinks is that? For men, it’s about five drinks or more, and for women, it’s four drinks or more. Consuming this much alcohol within a two-hour period is considered to be binge drinking.

This can be deceiving, however, because a “drink” is not necessarily one drink item, but approximately 14 grams of pure alcohol, which varies based on the alcohol you choose. According to the National Institute of Alcohol and Alcoholism, this is what defines a standard drink:

  • One regular beer (12 oz. = 5% alcohol)
  • One glass of wine (5 oz. = 12% alcohol)
  • One shot of distilled spirits (1.5 oz. = 40% alcohol)

These are rough percentages, as pure alcohol content is on a spectrum depending on the actual substance. For instance, regular beer has a slightly higher alcohol content than lite beer, and wines like champagne or port have a higher alcohol content than prosecco.

How Binge Drinking Leads to Alcoholism

Regular patterns of binge drinking can quickly evolve into an alcohol use disorder. The more your body is accustomed to alcohol consumption, the more alcohol you will need to drink in order to feel its effects. Individuals who develop a high tolerance to alcohol will end up drinking greater amounts until stopping alcohol use becomes too difficult.

After persistent, extensive drinking, a person may experience severe withdrawal symptoms if they quit consuming alcohol. Some withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous, especially if the person tries to go “cold turkey.” The best response is to consult a treatment professional and undergo medical supervision for detox and withdrawal.

Symptoms of Alcoholism

What’s considered alcoholism? According to the DSM-5, to be diagnosed with alcoholism, individuals must meet any two of the below criteria within the same 12-month period:

  • Using alcohol in higher amounts or for a longer time than originally intended
  • Being unable to cut down on alcohol use despite a desire to do so
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of alcohol
  • Cravings, or a strong desire to use alcohol
  • Being unable to fulfill major obligations at home, work, or school because of alcohol use
  • Continuing to abuse alcohol despite negative interpersonal or social problems that are likely due to alcohol use
  • Giving up previously enjoyed social, occupational, or recreational activities because of alcohol use
  • Using alcohol in physically dangerous situations (such as driving or operating machinery)
  • Continuing to abuse alcohol despite the presence of a psychological or physical problem that are probably due to alcohol use
  • Developing a tolerance (i.e. needing to drink increasingly large or more frequent amounts of alcohol to achieve desired effect)
  • Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when efforts are made to stop using alcohol

Physical Effects of Alcoholism

Drinking heavily and on a frequent basis can be damaging to a person’s physical, mental, and emotional health. No one sets out to become an alcoholic; it simply happens after a long period of binge drinking or alcohol dependence. Young adults may feel like they are immune to chronic or life-threatening health issues, but alcoholism has consequences regardless of a person’s age. Choosing to recover when you’re young may give you an opportunity to rebuild your health faster, but severe issues could persist long-term.

Short- and long-term physical effects associated with alcoholism can include:

  • Heart problems like cardiomyopathy (enlarged, inefficient heart muscle), arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), high blood pressure, and stroke
  • Liver disease, including steatosis (fatty liver), alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Pancreatic problems like pancreatitis, an acutely painful inflammatory condition that can progress to a chronic disease. Pancreatitis can affect a range of pancreatic functions, including the normal release of digestive enzymes
  • Certain types of cancer, including head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer
  • A weakened immune system, which can increase your risk of infection and contraction of diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis

Alcohol Treatment at the Claudia Black Young Adult Center

Roughly 31% of alcoholics in the US are young adults, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Roughly 31% of alcoholics in the US are young adults, according to the National Institutes of Health. Binge drinking is not simply a gateway to alcoholism but a pattern of drinking that can result in serious consequences. And binge drinkers may not only damage their own health but also endanger others. Car accidents, violence, fetal alcohol syndrome, SIDS, and the spread of STDs may occur as a result of binge drinking episodes.

At the Claudia Black Young Adult Center, we understand what prompts young adults to drink and what therapeutic interventions they may need to recover from alcohol addiction. We recognize that issues like these are multi-dimensional and affect a person’s emotional, mental, social, physical, and spiritual life. That’s why we treat the whole person for a better chance at sustainable, long-term recovery. If you or a loved one has tried to stop drinking but is unable to, please get in touch with our team today. Our research-backed, highly experiential program has helped thousands of young adults recover from alcohol use disorders and any co-occurring conditions.