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Binge drinking, no matter how frequent, can be dangerous and even deadly. Besides being dangerous, someone who engages in binge drinking consistently is also at risk of developing alcohol dependence and alcoholism. What is binge drinking? Binge drinking is four drinks in two hours for women and five drinks in two hours for men, and this occurring on at least 1 day in the past 30 days. One 12-oz. beer, one 5-oz. glass of wine or one 1.5-oz. shot of distilled spirits is considered ONE drink, to put that into perspective for you.
When we discuss the dangers associated with binge drinking, it is important to understand how binge drinking effects your body. BAC stands for Blood Alcohol Concentration, and this is how we measure how much alcohol is in someone's blood stream at any given time. When a person binge drinks, their BAC typically increases very rapidly over a very short period of time. At a BAC of 0.08 g/dl, you are considered legally intoxicated in most states and could go to jail for DUI or DWI if you chose to drive. This typically occurs after 4 or 5 drinks within a matter of a hour or two for most drinkers.
If someone doesn't stop consuming alcohol at this point and keeps slamming drinks, dangerous and life threatening BAC levels can very easily occur. By the time someone's BAC is at .120, they will typically experience vomiting. At .150, the drinker will experience impaired balance and movement and is at risk of or already experiencing the effects of alcohol poisoning. When a drinker's BAC reaches .200 it isn't uncommon to experience what is known as a "blackout", where they will remember very little if anything, and as BAC rises even further they could lose consciousness. In the worst cases, someone with a BAC of .200 or higher could die of alcohol poisoning.
When someone decides to binge drink on a single occasion, and their BAC reaches these dangerous levels they could literally become unconscious and choke to death on their own vomit. This is because as a depressant, alcohol can also impair certain body functions such as the drinker's gag reflex. Alcohol is also a stomach irritant. So, if someone does become ill and throw up because of their dangerous binge drinking, and is left to "sleep it off", this could lead to a very unfortunate outcome if they are left unattended. Someone who has been binge drinking to the point that they pass out like this should really be looked after until it is clear they are not going to experience this type of consequence.
Alcohol poisoning is also a very real and dangerous circumstance when someone is binge drinking. When someone has alcohol poisoning, the amount of alcohol in their bloodstream causes the areas of the brain essential to life-sustaining functions to shut down. We're talking about breathing, heart rate, body temperature, etc. When a drinker's BAC gets so high that it is literally poisoning them, they will begin to experience the following symptoms including clammy skin, no gag reflex as mentioned above, vomiting, slow and irregular breathing, seizures, confusion and hypothermia (extremely low body temperature). The even scarier part is that just because a person stops drinking, doesn't mean they're in the clear. A drinker's BAC can continue to rise even when they're unconscious. The alcohol they've consumed is still in their stomach and intestine, and continues to enter their bloodstream and effectively poison them. This is another example of why someone who has been binge drinking should never be left unattended if it is suspected they may have consumed alcohol to the point of poisoning. If they are experiencing alcohol poisoning, they could experience asphyxiation from choking on their own vomit as discussed above. Even if someone survives alcohol poisoning they could sustain permanent brain damage.
Because higher BAC levels caused by binge drinking can impair motor skills, coordination, etc. it is also not uncommon for this type of problematic drinking to lead to accidental injuries including motor vehicle crashes, drownings, burns, falls, etc. all of which can be life threatening. Studies have also concluded that binge drinking increases the drinker's risk of harming themselves or possibly others, and is a form of drinking commonly associated with domestic violence and sexual assaults. Binge drinking lowers the drinker's awareness and at the same time their inhibitions, which is why unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases are also common consequences that can occur after just one binge drinking episode, not to mention frequent episodes.
Binge drinking is not the same as alcoholism, but the transition from binge drinking to alcohol use disorder and alcoholism can occur within just a short period of time. Binge drinkers are at a significantly increased risk of this happening as opposed to responsible drinkers who practice temperance and moderation. When someone's binge drinking does progress to alcoholism, this could of course lead to even more dire health and social consequences. Still, binge drinking all by itself accounts for the majority of deaths caused by alcohol.