Binge Drinking Is Worse Than You Think – Here’s How To Stop
Imagine this scene.
You’re supposed to grab dinner with some friends after work on Friday. Last weekend you went overboard with the binge drinking and paid for it dearly well into Tuesday, so you’ve decided to “take it easy” this weekend.
You’ll just have a glass of wine or beer with dinner and make it an early evening, maybe even hit up the gym Saturday morning.
There’s a class you’ve been meaning to check out.
Except at dinner, that glass of wine felt really good, and you were having such a good conversation with your friends.
You didn’t want that vibe to end, so somebody (maybe it was you) suggested taking the party to the bar next door, and before you know it, you’re laying in your bed with the spins at 3 o’clock in the morning.
You’ve got your trusted puke bucket by your side, a notification on your phone that you just spent a small fortune that evening, and a swirling voice in your head begging to know why you insist on doing this to yourself.
- What is considered binge drinking?
- Risks Associated with Binge Drinking:
- Binge Drinking & Breast Cancer
- Binge Drinking & Other Cancers
- Social Pressure and Binge Drinking
- Additional Reasons To Stop Binge Drinking
- The Causes Behind Binge Drinking
- Why it’s hard to stop binge drinking
- Why does this matter for binge drinking?
- How To Stop Binge Drinking
What is considered binge drinking?
Binge drinking is wreaking havoc on your body. What qualifies as binge drinking?
According to the CDC, binge drinking is four or more drinks within the span of 2 hours for women and five or more within the same timespan for men. At this point, you may be blushing a little because you know you’ve downed twice that amount in two hours on more than one occasion.
We know that binge drinking increases the chances of us making an ass of ourselves and feeling pretty horrible the next day or two, but what else could be going on?
Risks Associated with Binge Drinking:
There are a number of health and safety risks you should know if you’re prone to binge drinking.
It’s been linked to the following:
Binge Drinking & Breast Cancer
When we’re young, it’s easy to fall victim to the immortality trap.
We rebound from partying more quickly, eat what we want, and immerse ourselves in as much risk as we can.
And we do it to our detriment.
For women reading this article, studies have shown that women who drink THREE alcoholic beverages in a week have a 15% higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Think about that.
If you’re binge drinking when you go out, chances are you are doubling or tripling that in a single evening. How many times are you doing that per week?
For every additional drink you consume per day over the three per week, you increase your risk by 10%.
Although the risk of developing breast cancer under age 40 is still relatively low, your drinking habits in your youth could impact your chances of developing it later in life.
Binge Drinking & Other Cancers
Breast cancer is not the only risk associated with drinking. Any amount of alcohol consumption has been linked to higher rates of various cancers, including head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, and colorectal cancer.
If you have a family history of cancer, it is especially critical for you to stop binge drinking sooner than later.
Social Pressure and Binge Drinking
Depending on your culture and social circle, you may belong to a group of people for whom heavy partying and binge drinking is the norm.
Maybe you’ve tried to quit in the past but get lured back by peer pressure from friends who want to “turn up” on the weekends.
When I was in college, binge drinking was like a badge of honor.
People bragged about how wasted they got, what they did as a result, or how close they came to being hospitalized with alcohol poisoning.
Looking back, I can’t help but think how insane that is.
Oh my god! Last weekend was crazy! She totally cheated on her boyfriend and then almost choked on her own vomit. Hahaha.
There’s no shame in stepping back and saying to yourself, “This is stupid. I don’t want to make myself sick just to have fun.”
And then there’s the more tricky realization that if your friendships and social circle is predicated entirely on getting wasted together, it may be time to rethink those relationships.
You don’t want to lose precious years of your life to hang out with people who serve no genuine good for you in the long term.
Additional Reasons To Stop Binge Drinking
For young people, particularly college students, here are some additional statistics to think about.
- At least 50% of student sexual assault involves alcohol.
- Approximately 90% of rape perpetrated by an acquaintance of the victim involves alcohol.
- About 20-25% of students will be sexually assaulted on college campuses.
Every year 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes. It is the third most preventable death in the United States.
Binge drinking causes far more than hangovers and regrettable decisions. It’s time to stop.
The Causes Behind Binge Drinking
We’ve all been guilty of going out, overdoing it, swearing that we would NEVER do that again, and then, of course, we do it again.
As far as symptoms go, the hangover from binge drinking is somewhere near the vicinity of the flu meets food poisoning and dying of thirst. Yet we go through it on purpose.
Sure, we all have our own reasons for doing the dumb things that we do, but on a scientific level, what is driving us to binge?
Let’s geek out for a minute.
Why it’s hard to stop binge drinking
According to a new study recently published in Forbes, scientists may know why we binge drink even when we want to stop.
Alcohol “works” by stimulating neurons in the “pleasure center” of our brains, which releases dopamine (that happy feeling).
We like feeling good, so the brain tells us to keep going back for more.
The specific area in the brain that alcohol affects is called the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Scientists have found that alcohol blocks a key potassium channel in this area of the brain.
The result is a full-on neuron party in your brain and the release of more dopamine.
Without this potassium channel, alcohol can’t stimulate neurons and thus can’t release the much-beloved dopamine rush to our brains.
Why does this matter for binge drinking?
In the study, mice that had been genetically modified to have a slight reduction in this potassium channel were 30% more likely to binge drink than normal mice.
That means there’s a potential genetic component to binging. People who have less of this potassium channel have to drink more alcohol to get the same reward as people with normal levels.
For some, binge drinking could be a way to cope with unresolved issues or trauma, an indication of alcohol addiction, or a matter of willpower.
For others, however, there could be a genetic component causing them to binge and making it harder to stop.
How To Stop Binge Drinking
There are resources online that will tell you to moderate your drinking.
I don’t think moderation works for a variety of reasons, but namely because if you could moderate, you wouldn’t be on the internet trying to figure out how to stop binge drinking.
Here are some suggestions that I think are worth attempting:
1. Change your scene.
If your social life feels like an eternal frat party (or maybe it literally is because you’re in college), it’s time to find other scenes to get into. What should you do?
That’s up to you, but choose activities that are not 100% alcohol centered.
There’s a saying in the recovery community, “If you don’t want a haircut, don’t go to the barbershop.”
Such as it is with drinking.
If you don’t want to binge drink, don’t go places where everyone is getting trashed.
2. Take a break from alcohol.
Not everybody who binges has an alcohol problem, but everyone who has an alcohol problem probably binges. It’s up to you to determine which category you fall into.
If you don’t think you’re dependent on alcohol, try going without it to see how you feel.
Take two weeks and do some soul-searching about how much you’ve been drinking. Afterward, ask yourself why you’ve been drinking so much and what you want to do moving forward.
Personally, I find listing all the things bingeing has ruined for me to be very helpful.
Examples on my list have included: ruined weekends, embarrassing text messages, weight gain, bad skin, and lack of motivation.
You know you want to stop binge drinking, so you need to figure out the causes so you have reasons to keep moving forward.
This is why participating in month-long sobriety challenges like Dry January can be helpful for people who are rethinking their relationship with drinking and partying.
3. Find things to get involved in that don’t center around alcohol
If you want to see what else is out there besides getting trashed every weekend with the same people, you have to be proactive.
What do you enjoy doing?
If you like to cook, take some classes. Want to make jewelry and get that Etsy store off the ground? Find a place to start learning the tricks of the trade.
When I was a heavy drinker, I frequently avoided doing things I found interesting because A. they didn’t involve alcohol and B. I didn’t think they’d have potential romantic partners there.
Those were my priorities. Dating and getting drunk. Sometimes at the same time.
Don’t be like that, too.
The biggest thing I realized after I quit drinking was just how many people successful, creative, very cool people don’t drink or drink very little because their lives revolve around their passions and work.
I didn’t see examples of this until I quit. You may experience something similar.
4. Set limits.
Personally, this never worked for me. But if you are truly committed to drinking less and not quitting, you’ll have to set limits for yourself and stick to them.
What are your limits? Is it one drink? Two drinks? Whatever your limit, treat it as non-negotiable. Once you’ve reached your limit, switch to water or mocktails.
You also need to think about your environment. If you’re going to a party where everyone is binge drinking, and that is the only thing to do, you will have a hard time.
We’ve all gone to a function with good intentions and come out wasted and full of regret the following morning.
So part of setting limits has to include where you go when you drink.
Go to social functions that aren’t solely about drinking, where you’ll have something to do besides consuming alcohol. Pick places where people aren’t getting trashed and acting wild.
This will help you stick within that pre-determined drink limit.
If you can’t do this, even in otherwise relaxed settings, that may be a sign your relationship with alcohol is in that dangerous gray area or beyond, in which case, it’s time to have a different conversation.
If you’re curious about that, I’ve included a quiz at the bottom of this article.
5. Know your triggers and avoid them.
Identifying and avoiding triggers is a big part of sobriety, but they’re also important for people cutting back on their alcohol consumption.
Figure out the people and places you most associate with binge drinking.
Is there a particular happy hour spot that you drink too much at? Are there people who you know if you go out together, you’ll get wasted?
Take a break from those people and places for a while.
This can be hard, especially if your closest friends are also your biggest drinking buddies. It doesn’t mean you can’t hang out but maybe change the scene. Do something during the day and avoid hitting the bars or clubs with them.
If you want to stop, you need to step back from the environments that trigger your bingeing. You might think you can hit up that happy hour spot and not avail yourself of six rounds of half-off pints, but you’re probably wrong.
Trust me on this.
Willpower is a finite resource, one that you’ve probably used up by the time happy hour hits.
6. Focus on your physical and mental health.
Binge drinking can be a double-whammy.
Sometimes we do it to numb ourselves to larger problems we’d rather not face. Other times we do it to escape reality and feel good when we otherwise don’t. And then there are times we drink to self-medicate more serious mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
And incidentally, heavy drinking makes all of those issues worse. So it becomes a self-reinforcing cycle.
One way to disrupt that cycle is to focus on taking care of yourself. Alcohol is highly disruptive to your sleep cycles, which has a ripple effect.
Poor sleep leads to poor dietary choices, making us feel lousy, cranky, foggy, and all other types of miserable. It’s hard to function like that, which is why so many people end their day thinking, “Man, I need a drink.”
Although not a miraculous or overnight solution, if you want to tackle some of the underlying drivers of your binge drinking, start with your health.
Prioritize getting high-quality sleep (7-8 hours) every night, exercising (even 20 minutes of walking), and eating relatively healthy food.
I promise that, with time, those three things right there will transform your life. It’s not innovative or trendy, but this is what works.
Focus on getting your sleep, movement, and diet right, and you’ll feel like a new person.
7. Think about quitting booze for good.
It may not be the most popular decision, but it could be the right one. After you’ve abstained for a couple of weeks, try extending your sobriety to a month or two.
Maybe you’ve discovered some deeper issues through this process. Or maybe you realize that your relationship with alcohol is more fraught than you previously understood.
This might be a good time to think about quitting for good.
It’s a scary proposition for some, but if you’re flirting with the idea, I encourage you to join some sober communities online and see if you can connect to other people’s experiences.
We have a great private Facebook group that you’re welcome to join.
Additionally, you might want to read sobriety memoirs. I especially recommend “The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober” by Catherine Gray. It’s entertaining and highly relatable for anyone trying to reform their binge-drinking, partying ways.
Finally, this is also a good time to connect with a counselor. They can give you an objective opinion on your drinking and help you address some underlying issues that triggered your drinking habits.
Whether or not your quit for good, reducing or eliminating alcohol after extended periods of heavy drinking is really hard. You’ll probably want and need extra support.
Don’t be afraid to reach out. There are a lot of people out there going through this exact same thing.
Fortunately, the trend towards binge drinking is beginning to reverse itself.
Young people are drinking less, which means as a culture we could be turning a page. That’s the good news.
As binge drinking becomes less socially acceptable among young people, my hope is that we will start to see major cultural shifts in the ways we consume alcohol.
Whatever you decide, commit to doing something different. Find ways to rearrange your life so that binge drinking is no longer at the center of it.
And never be afraid to reach out for help.
If you want extra support, I also recommend reading Annie Grace’s book “This Naked Mind” or considering one of her programs.
Annie has dedicated her life to helping people take back control of their lives and drinking. Her work has helped thousands break free of this terrible cycle, and if you need something like that right now, I highly recommend checking her out.
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, here are some resources to help get you through.
- In the USA https://www.alcohol.org/
- In Canada http://www.ccdus.ca/Eng/Pages/Addictions-Treatment-Helplines-Canada.aspx
- In the UK https://www.adfam.org.uk/help-for-families/finding-support/call-a-helpline
- In Australia http://www.recoveroz.com.au/how-to-find-help/help-lines.html
- In NZ https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/get-help/in-crisis/helplines
Resources for infographic facts on the risks of binge drinking
The AUDIT Quiz
The Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test is used by medical professionals to assess their patient’s risk level for alcohol dependence.
The following quiz is for informational purposes only, not an official medical diagnosis. If you score high on this test or just have concerns, book an appointment with your doctor. That first step can be scary, but you’re doing the right thing!