“I felt empty and sad for years, and for a long, long time, alcohol worked. I’d drink, and all the sadness would go away… But at some point, the booze stopped working. That’s when drinking started sucking. Every time I drank, I could feel pieces of me leaving. I continued to drink until there was nothing left. Just emptiness.”
~Dina Kucera, Everything I Never Wanted to Be: a Memoir of Alcoholism and Addiction, Faith and Family, Hope and Humor
Alcohol is not like other abused substances. According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 88% of US adults drink alcohol at some point in their lifetime, with almost 57% reporting that they drank within the past month. For the majority of Americans, the consumption of alcohol is an enjoyable social pastime.
So when does an episode of drinking start to become a problem?
One answer might be “When the amount that a person drinks is beyond their control.”
Another answer could be “When it contributes to the development of an Alcohol Use Disorder.”
“Binge drinking”, a disturbing trend among many drinkers, fits both of those descriptions.
What Is Binge Drinking?
There are two accepted definitions of binge drinking –
- The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as 5 drinks for men/4 drinks for women within a two-hour period.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines binge drinking as consuming 5 or more alcoholic drinks on the same occasion at least once within the past 30 days.
Why Is Binge Drinking a Problem?
Let’s go with the first answer given earlier, referring to a loss of control. One way to judge a loss of control is the harm that binge drinkers might do to themselves or others.
According to the Centers for Disease Control:
- Binge drinking costs every US citizen $746 per year, in terms of lost productivity, crime, and health care expenses.
- There are 54 different diseases and injuries related to excessive drinking, including:
- Motor vehicle crashes
- Violence against others
- HIV and STDs
- Unplanned pregnancies
- Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
- Alcohol dependence
As to the second criteria, referring to the development of an AUD, new research conducted at the University of California San Francisco suggests that even just ONE drink – starting with the very first exposure –can cause memory and behavioral changes that may promote future drinking.
The study, led by Dr. Dorit Ron and published in the Journal of Neuroscience, indicates that alcohol’s perceived benefits – such as the euphoric “high” caused by the release of dopamine– are identified by the brain and subsequently stored in a person’s memory.
This association reinforces drinking as a pleasurable activity and motivates the individual to repeat the behavior. This effect is magnified in people who already have a genetic predisposition to substance abuse.
The NIAAA says that men who drink no more than 4 drinks per day or 14 drinks per week/women who drink no more than 3 drinks per day or 7 drinks per week are at are at “low risk” for developing an AUD. Only 2% of individuals who drink within these limits have an AUD.
By comparison, the top 10% of American drinkers consume an average of 74 alcoholic drinks per week.
If you worry that your social drinking is becoming something more and is beyond your control, contact Northpoint Recovery today. Northpoint is the premier alcohol rehab program in the entire Inland Northwest region of the country, and is located conveniently in Boise, Idaho.
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