While not everyone drinks alcohol, a significant number of people do so in amounts that can be considered binge drinking. That is, consuming five or more standard drinks within two hours (for men; for women, it is four or more drinks). This level of consumption can result in serious health and behavioural problems, accidents and worse.
A ‘standard drink’ is defined as 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. Drink five or more and you’re bingeing. Statistically, binge drinking is more common among young adults aged 18 to 34 years, but older drinkers aged 65 or more reportedly binge more often, an average of five or six times per month.
The 2013 McCreary Adolescent Health Survey identified that 45% of youth aged 12 to 19 years had tried alcohol (males and females). Of the survey participants, more than six of 10 of those who had tried alcohol in the past had consumed it in the previous month. McCreary also identified important factors surrounding alcohol consumption. For example, youth who reported never drinking alcohol said there was a lot of peer pressure to do so and it was considered abnormal among their peers to go to a party and not drink.
Questioned about what could be done about the issue, youth across several focus groups explained that while knowledge and awareness of alcohol consumption was growing, promoting abstinence was not an effective way to approach the issue. They also suggested more education for adults because young people could always find an adult willing to buy alcohol for them. When asked why some youth might binge drink, participants in the McCreary survey gave reasons similar to why they drank at all: peer pressure; to help them cope with stress and adverse life circumstances; they did not know their limits yet.
Data from the 2015 Chief Public Health Officer’s Report tells us about the costs of alcohol consumption in Canada. For example, in 2002 there were 4,258 deaths in Canada related to alcohol abuse. In the year from April 2013 to March 2014, $20.5 billion worth of alcohol was sold in Canada. Among psychoactive drugs, alcohol-related disorders were the top cause of hospitalizations in Canada in 2011.
Binge drinking, ‘tying one on’, ‘getting wasted’ all contribute to problems beyond a bad hangover. Getting drunk affects reflexes, judgement and behaviour and can lead to unintended consequences such as getting into a fight or having unwanted or unprotected sex, or forcing it on someone else. Poor judgement can mean damaging social relationships, experiencing violence or behaving criminally. Alcohol poisoning can be serious. Drinking too much too quickly can affect your breathing, heart rate, body temperature and gag reflex and can potentially lead to a coma and death.
The long-term effects of repeated binge drinking include alcohol addiction, damaging the stomach, liver or brain, and developing or worsening mental health problems like depression; you can add memory loss and blackouts to the list. And it turns out that, after smoking, drinking alcohol is the second biggest risk factor for cancers of the mouth and throat.
Managing alcohol consumption means choosing when to drink and how much. By knowing your limits, and sticking to them, you won’t be pressured into consuming more than you want to. It’s a good idea to have food before or while drinking. And staying busy can help: have a game of pool or dance — don’t just sit and drink.
Binge drinking isn’t new. When thinking back to your youth, you might be tempted to recall that ‘it was all fine in your day.’ It probably wasn’t, but perhaps you blacked out and don’t remember?
Written by Dr. Paul Martiquet, the Medical Health Officer for the Sunshine Coast and Powell River.