Health Risks of Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is the consumption of alcohol in large amounts in a very short time. It is normally described as drinking alcohol beyond the recommended levels of 4 units per day for women and 6 units per day for men. Drinking too much alcohol may be detrimental to  health. In the USA, binge drinking accounts for more than 90% of the total alcohol consumed by youngsters below the age of 21 years.

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Binge drinking may lead to several long-term and short-term health risks; these health risks can be lowered by reducing the rate of consumption.

Long-term health risks

Prolonged consumption of too much alcohol may cause several detrimental effects on the nervous system, brain, pancreas, liver, and heart. Binge drinking may increase blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It debilitates the immune system by causing severe infection and lowers the bone density, thereby increasing the risk of bone erosion and fracture.

  • Blood pressure: Hypertension may occur due to excessive alcohol consumption. High blood pressure leads to aneurysm, mild cognitive impairment, kidney failure, damage of eye blood vessels, chest pain, and narrowed and damaged arteries.

  • Brain damage: Excessive quantities of alcohol function as a neurotoxin and lead to the destruction of brain cells. Youngsters addicted to binge drinking show impaired memory, reasoning and cognitive functioning. It also leads to 10% shrinkage in the volume of the hippocampus, i.e., an organ located within the human brain that is associated with long-term memory and reasoning skills.

  • Cancer: Binge drinking is a major risk factor in causing several cancers that are associated with  the pharynx, liver, colorectal unit, and the esophagus. In women, excess alcohol intake is found to be a major cause of breast cancer; however, there is a possibility for this malignancy to occur even after consuming only one drink per day. Combined with smoking, binge drinking is a triggering factor for oral cancers.

  • Liver damage: Continuous binge drinking may damage the liver and lead to acute alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis; the severity of both these conditions is high and their symptoms include jaundice, acute abdominal pain, and fever.

  • Gastrointestinal problems: Excessive alcohol consumption can damage the esophagus, causing gastritis and acute hemorrhage. If this condition is left untreated, the complications may worsen over time and also cause death.

  • Cardiac issues: Myocardial contraction occurs as a result of excess alcohol utilization, which may hinder the blood-pumping mechanism and increase the risk of cardiac arrest. The risk of cardiac arrhythmia is also doubled, leading to unexpected death as a result of heart failure.

  • Stroke: Binge drinking is a causative factor of acute hemorrhagic and ischemic strokes, where the occurrence of acute hemorrhage is a result of increased blood pressure along with cerebral artery spasm.

  • Musculoskeletal disorder: Acute myopathy is also caused by overconsumption of alcohol; other complications of the disorder include myalgia, swelling, and inflammation accompanied with gradual weakening of the legs and calves.

  • Psychological issues: Excessive alcohol intake promotes several mental health issues such as anxiety and depression and affects the person’s comportment.

Other critical psychological issues include self-pity, stress, moral deterioration, discontentment, chronic depression, obsessive drinking spells, and memory and learning problems like dementia.

Short-term health risks

Overconsumption of alcohol imposes several instantaneous and detrimental effects on health. The following are some outcomes of binge drinking.

  • Pregnancy complications and birth defects: Binge consumption of alcohol during pregnancy results in various complications like miscarriage, premature labor and birth, and low amniotic fluid. It can also cause several malformations and birth defects in the fetus, resulting in fetal alcohol syndrome.

  • Alcohol poisoning: Acute intoxication or alcohol poisoning is related to increased alcohol content in the blood. Acute intoxication can cause stupor, hypoglycemia, blurred/double vision, respiratory depression, convulsions, coma, lack of coordination in muscles, and depressed reflexes and maybe due to failure of respiratory and circulatory systems as a result of pulmonary aspiration.

  • Physical issues:
    • Unintended pregnancy.
    • Increased risk to sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.
    • Occurrence of accidental injuries due to falling, stumbling, drowning, burning, or motor vehicle crashes.

Other common risks of binge drinking include diarrhea, unexpected mortality in people already suffering from cardiovascular disease, dizziness, inefficient diabetes control, and inflammation of spinal cord.

Utilization of excess alcohol slowly affects the life of an individual, both professionally and personally. Long-term uncontrolled use of alcohol may lead to full-blown alcoholism. Since a majority of people refuse to understand the complications of alcohol misuse, they are unable to avoid binge drinking.

Common problems that are witnessed include failed promises, physical and verbal misuse of loved ones, homicide, skipping of work, missed deadlines, domestic violence, suicidal tendencies, shunning of responsibilities, withdrawal from society, temper tantrums, and arguments at work.

Reviewed by Afsaneh Khetrapal Bsc (Hons)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jan 9, 2018

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