Debunking Binge Drinking Myths

The Drinking-Is-Actually-Healthy Myth

Sure, you drink but you’re no lush. Most of your drinking is done socially, maybe unwinding with a beer or glass a wine or two after work, a bit of weekend warrioring on occasion. But otherwise you consider yourself a “moderate” drinker. So, what is a “moderate” drinker? Most agree that moderate drinking falls somewhere within the one to three drinks a day range. The Surgeon General recommends no more than one drink per day for women (7 per week) and two drinks per day for men (14 per week). (A drink is defined as 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, and 1.5 ounces of spirits.) What’s “healthy” drinking, then? A French study conducted in 2010 showed that those who drink moderate to low amounts of alcohol are healthier than those who drink more – or who don’t drink at all. Healthy drinkers having healthier hearts, minds, and body weights. Here’s the catch: “Low” means one to two drinks a day, max.

The Having-a-Few-Drinks-on-the-Weekend-Doesn’t-Matter Myth

Drinking yourself healthy doesn’t mean – and this is a big “doesn’t” – having a drink or two during the week and then five or more in one sitting on the weekend. You can’t save them up. Doing this will negate any benefits you may’ve accumulated during the week. Moderate to low alcohol intake may also be an indicator of a higher social level, better general health, and improved cardiovascular health. Those who drink moderately tend to be more conscious of their lifestyle choices in general.

The I-Just-Had-a-Few-Drinks-It’s-Not-Like-I-Binged Myth

Well, according to the experts, a binge is four or more drinks per occasion – essentially, a doubling of what low to moderate drinking should be. It can be easy to sail past that destination on many a typical after-work TGIF commemorations. Binges are the most popular way to drink alcohol: it accounts for more than half of the alcohol consumed by adults and 90% of the alcohol consumed by youths. The trend to drinking more is growing. According to George Koob, PhD, director of the National Institute of Alcohol and Alcoholism (an NIH agency), “We’re seeing a 5% increase – that’s roughly a million more people than 10 years ago – who are knocking back more than 5, 8, or 10 drinks in one sitting.” Koob also says: “The brain gets more sensitive to alcohol’s sedative effects when you’re older, around 65. For people who may have trouble navigating the slippery sidewalks already, this just makes it even more dangerous.”

The Only-Alcoholics-Are-Binge-Drinkers Myth

This is not true by a long shot: 90% of excessive drinkers are not alcoholic dependent. (This means that they don’t experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking, among other things.) Excessive drinking does tend to follow a binge-like pattern and the more people drink the higher the health risks. Diseases linked to excessive alcohol use include breast cancer, liver disease, liver cancer, and heart disease.

The I-May-Binge-But-It’s-Not-Like-I-Do-It-Often Myth

According to CDC data, nearly one in six Americans binge drink an average of four times a month, knocking back an average of eight cocktails within a few hours. And it’s not just frat boys and wet t-shirt contestants (and other hedonistic 18 to 34 year olds), it’s grandpa and grandma too: the over-65 set are the most likely to go overboard (5.5 times a month). Though, it’s the 18 to 24 year olds who are said to drink the most in one sitting (averaging 9.3 drinks per sitting). If you’re a man you’re twice as likely to overindulge as a woman. And there’s more: The CDC also says that more than half of the 80,000 annual deaths associated with excessive drinking are the result of binge drinking. In 2010, 85% of all alcohol-impaired driving arrests or accidents involved individuals who had claimed to be binge drinking.

The I-May-Binge-Drink-But-It’s-Not-Like-It’s-a-Problem Myth

Actually, binge drinking is a problem for a lot of people. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol is a factor in approximately 60% of fatal burn injuries and drownings, 40% fatal falls and car accidents, and half of all sexual assaults. Alcohol decreases skills and inhibitions and increases risky behavior – you do jackass stuff you wouldn’t normally do. Overall, heavy drinking is on the rise in the U.S. – up more than 17% since 2005 and binge drinking is up 9%.

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Are You a Binge Drinker? Probably: 6 Myths of Moderation Dispelled