There is a fine line between moderate and binge drinking, and alcohol dependence and addiction, and many people who drink have a hard time honestly determining where they stand. Many who binge drink believe they can quit drinking whenever they want, and deny they have an addiction problem. But if they seriously tried to remain sober, many would find they are unable to. Campaigns like Dry January are popping up across the country, and they serve as a good test for those who enjoy alcohol a little too much, to help determine whether the person has a need for alcoholism treatment or other interventions.
Dangers of Binge Drinking
There are several different ways individuals misuse alcohol, and all of them can be dangerous. Binge drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. This typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks or women consume 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours.
Binge drinking poses health and safety risks because it causes high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, some forms of cancer, and liver disease. It also causes memory and learning problems, and drastically impairs judgment, leading to drunk driving, violence, unsafe sex, accidents, and falls.
Binge drinking statistics, according to the Centers for Disease Control:
- One in six U.S. adults binge drinks about four times a month, consuming about seven drinks per binge. This results in 17 billion total binge drinks consumed by adults annually, or 467 binge drinks per binge drinker.
- Binge drinking is most common among younger adults aged 18–34 years, but more than half of the total binge drinks are consumed by those aged 35 and older.
- Binge drinking is twice as common among men as among women. Four in five total binge drinks are consumed by men.
- Binge drinking is more common among people with household incomes of $75,000 or more and higher educational levels. Binge drinkers with lower incomes and educational levels, however, consume more binge drinks per year.
- Over 90% of U.S. adults who drink excessively report binge drinking in the past 30 days.
- Most people younger than age 21 who drink alcohol report binge drinking, often consuming large amounts.
Other Forms of Alcohol Abuse
Other people abuse alcohol by overusing it on a daily basis. A drink, or two, or three a day can also cause health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease, and cancer, and puts the drinker at high risk for dependence and addiction.
Finally, individuals misuse alcohol when they drink to self-medicate. Some drink because it numbs their pain, others drink to forget, and still others drink because they need to celebrate something or try to fit in with the crowd. While drinking might make the person feel better in the moment, later they will begin to regret their choices, and they may begin to rely on alcohol to meet their needs in the long run. Self-medicating with alcohol is often the beginning of binge drinking or frequent drinking, which can quickly lead to alcoholism.
Preventing Alcohol Dependence
Of course, consuming large amounts of alcohol is taxing to the body and mind, and leads to a host of dangers and illnesses, but it also puts the person at risk for alcoholism, which usually becomes a lifelong battle. In order to prevent dependence and addiction, it is important to monitor one’s drinking habits and know when help is needed.
In order to do this, we all need to take an honest look at our lives, our behavior, and our drinking habits. If there is any question about whether or not alcohol is controlling a person’s life, we recommend taking the 30-day challenge. Try to go 30 days without a single drink. If you are able to do this, your drinking has not escalated to the point of dependence and you just might need to exhibit more self-control with alcohol. If you are unable to go 30 days without a drink, either because of the withdrawal symptoms or because the cravings are so bad, you need help.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms:
- Shaky hands
- A headache
- Racing heart
- High blood pressure
- Heavy sweating
- Delirium tremens
Take the 30 Day Challenge
With New Year’s resolutions underway and modifications to lifestyles a popular endeavor, celebrating a Dry January seems fitting at this time of year. Various organizations have started backing this cause, including bars and restaurants across the country. For example, bars in New York have started mixing mocktails at $10 a piece in support of those looking for alcohol-free bar experiences. One beverage director at a West Hollywood restaurant told ABC, “Non-alcoholic drinks are really popular. You don’t want to exclude somebody because they can’t enjoy alcohol. Whether you’re on a cleanse, or you’re a kid, or you just don’t drink, sometimes you want to feel like you have something less mundane than a soda or a glass of tea.”
According to Science Alert, those who have participated in Dry January have experienced lasting benefits. Researchers from the University of Sussex determined that those who remained sober for the 31 days of January felt they benefitted in the following ways:
- 93% of participants had a sense of achievement;
- 88% saved money;
- 82% think more deeply about their relationship with drink;
- 80% feel more in control of their drinking;
- 76% learned more about when and why they drink;
- 71% realized they don’t need a drink to enjoy themselves;
- 70% had generally improved health;
- 71% slept better;
- 67% had more energy;
- 58% lost weight;
- 57% had better concentration;
- 54% had better skin.
“The simple act of taking a month off alcohol helps people drink less in the long term: by August people are reporting one extra dry day per week,” said researcher Richard de Visser. “There are also considerable immediate benefits: nine in ten people save money, seven in ten sleep better and three in five lose weight. Interestingly, these changes in alcohol consumption have also been seen in the participants who didn’t manage to stay alcohol-free for the whole month – although they are a bit smaller. This shows that there are real benefits to just trying to complete Dry January.”
So what if you’ve missed Dry January this year? The month is not what matters. What makes any dry campaign successful is helping people experience the health benefits of being sober for a month. “The brilliant thing about Dry January is that it’s not really about January,” says Richard Piper, CEO of Alcohol Change UK, which conducted the survey.
“Being alcohol-free for 31 days shows us that we don’t need alcohol to have fun, to relax, to socialize. That means that for the rest of the year we are better able to make decisions about our drinking, and to avoid slipping into drinking more than we really want to.”
If you are concerned about your drinking habits, give a dry month a try. If you aren’t able to go a month without drinking, consider getting professional help. The sooner you get help, the better able you will be to stop the addiction and get back to your life.