The relationship between binge drinking and alcoholism is often misunderstood. The majority of binge drinkers are not physically dependent on alcohol, but binge drinking is considered a significant risk factor for developing an alcohol use disorder.

What Is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking refers to consuming large quantities of alcohol in a short period of time. There is some disagreement as to what constitutes binge drinking, but many addiction professionals use the guidelines established by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). For men, binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks on the same occasion at least once in the last 30 days. Since women process alcohol differently due to their smaller size and different biological makeup, binge drinking for women is defined as drinking four or more drinks at least once in the last 30 days.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), this level of alcohol consumption in a 2-hour span of time is enough to place an average sized person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) at .08. This is the level at which drunk driving penalties apply if you get behind the wheel.

Motivations for binge drinking vary. Binge drinking is most common in social settings, with many people viewing alcohol consumption as a way to have fun and temporarily forget their problems. Teens and young adults may view binge drinking as a way to test their tolerance and rebel against authority.

Moderate drinking is generally considered safe for people with no underlying medical conditions, but binge drinking offers no health benefits. Some of the negative effects associated with binge drinking include:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Blackouts
  • Falls
  • Increased risk of motor vehicle accidents
  • Risky sexual behavior with an increased risk of unplanned pregnancy and/or STDs
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Potential for dangerous interactions with prescription medication

How Common Is Binge Drinking?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), binge drinking is very common. About 1 in 6 adults in the United States engages in binge drinking 4 or more times per month, consuming an average of 8 drinks in each binge.

Binge drinking behavior strongly varies by age and gender. Men are twice as likely to binge drink as women. People ages 18 to 34 are more likely to engage in binge drinking than older adults.

Surprisingly, binge drinking is more common among upper income adults. People with household incomes of $75,000 or more likely to engage in binge drinking than lower income individuals. However, lower income individuals consume more drinks on average when they do engage in binge drinking.

How Is Binge Drinking Related to Alcoholism?

Binge drinking does not necessarily mean that a person suffers from an alcohol use disorder, although many people who enter treatment for alcoholism have a history of binge drinking.

A formal diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder is made based on the specific problems that drinking causes in a person’s life. This can include:

  • Drinking more alcohol than you originally intended
  • Feeling powerless to stop drinking
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you are unable to drink
  • Craving alcohol
  • Requiring larger quantities of alcohol to feel impaired
  • Continuing to drink despite experiencing alcohol-related health problems
  • Failing to meet your responsibilities at home or work due to your drinking
  • Lying to friends and family about your alcohol consumption
  • Giving up activities you once enjoyed to spend more time drinking
  • Feeling as though drinking is the only way to cope with stress, sadness, anger, anxiety, or other uncomfortable emotions.

The relationship between binge drinking and addiction is strongest in adolescents, with teens who report frequent binge drinking having nearly triple the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder as adults.

What Type of Help Is Available?

If you believe that your binge drinking may be a sign of an alcohol problem, help is available. Alcoholism is a treatable disease, but you can’t beat it alone.

Treatment for an alcohol use disorder typically includes individual and group therapy to focus on learning coping strategies for handling cravings and managing emotions without drinking. Experiential therapies such as equine therapy, art therapy, or music therapy can also be used to encourage people who have trouble talking about their feelings to process the issues that are contributing to their substance abuse.

It is common for people who suffer from an alcohol use disorder to also meet the criteria for mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD. When someone has a dual disease or co-occurring disorder, treating both conditions simultaneously is vital to providing a solid foundation for a sustained recovery.

By Dana Hinders


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Understanding the relationship between alcohol and depressionThe relationship between alcohol and depression is deceptive. Since drinking is often a part of social gatherings, it may seem like a few beers would be a great way to take your mind off your troubles. However, alcohol can actually worsen depression symptoms. In some cases, it may even induce depression in someone with no previous signs of a mental health disorder.

Signs of Depression

Despite being one of the most common mental illnesses, depression is often misunderstood. Clinical depression is more than just having a bad day once in a while. Someone suffering from depression experiences noticeable changes in mood and behavior that significantly affect their overall quality of life.

Signs of depression can include:

  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of intense sadness
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or socialization
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling like you’re a failure or that you’ve let friends and family down
  • Having thoughts of self-harm or suicide

Symptoms that occur on all or most days for two weeks or more indicate a need to consult a medical professional.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Studies indicate that nearly 1/3 of people suffering from depression also have a drinking problem. The link between depression and alcohol addiction is strongest in women and teenagers.

Signs of alcohol abuse include:

  • Believing you need alcohol to relax or feel better
  • Continuing to drink despite negative consequences in your personal or professional life
  • Drinking until you black out
  • Developing an increased tolerance for alcohol, so you require more drinks to feel impaired
  • Feeling powerless to stop drinking
  • Lying about your drinking to friends and family
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, nausea, shakiness, and trembling when you’re not able to drink

Understanding the Relationship Between Alcohol and Depression

Chemically speaking, alcohol is a depressant. A depressant is a substance that lowers neurotransmitter levels, reducing stimulation and arousal in the body.

The majority of people who suffer from both depression and alcohol addiction began drinking as a way to self-medicate their symptoms. However, since the genetic risk factors for both drinking and depression significantly overlap, alcohol abuse can sometimes trigger symptoms in people who weren’t previously depressed.

Other ways in which alcohol can affect depression include:

Fatigue. Drinking regularly can negatively affect your sleep patterns. Fatigue can worsen existing depression symptoms or trigger symptoms in people who are not clinically depressed.

Malnutrition. Alcohol satisfies the body’s calorie requirements, but contains no essential vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, or carbohydrates. It can also irritate the lining of the intestine, making it more difficult for the body to absorb needed nutrients. Someone who is malnourished lacks the energy needed to complete daily activities

Difficulty regulating blood sugar. When the liver’s resources are devoted to processing alcohol, it becomes more difficult to maintain stable blood sugar levels. This can lead to mood swings, including feelings of anger and irritability.

Folic acid deficiency. Folate deficiency is common in people suffering from depression, but regular alcohol use lowers levels of folic acid in the body.

Lower serotonin and norepinephrine levels. Alcohol can lower levels of these important mood regulating chemicals in the body, which can make a depressed person feel more depressed.

Impaired judgement. Alcohol decreases inhibition and impairs judgement. This can lead to risky behaviors, including self-harm or suicide attempts.

Decreasing effectiveness of medication. Alcohol can reduce the effectiveness of prescription antidepressants while increasing the risk of side effects such as drowsiness and dangerously high blood pressure

Getting the Help You Need

Someone who is suffering from both depression and alcoholism is said to have a dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder. In this case, both illnesses must be treated simultaneously. This is typically done with a combination of individual therapy, group therapy, and medication to focus on relieving specific symptoms and addressing the underlying factors contributing to both problems.

According to research published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, seeking treatment for alcohol addiction can quickly result in an improvement in depression symptoms. “Although it has been suggested that alcoholism and depression are manifestations of the same underlying illness, the results of family, twin, and adoption studies suggest that alcoholism and mood disorder are probably distinct illnesses with different prognoses and treatments. However, symptoms of depression are likely to develop during the course of alcoholism, and some patients with mood disorders may increase their drinking when undergoing a mood change, fulfilling criteria for secondary alcoholism. When depressive symptoms are secondary to alcoholism, they are likely to disappear within a few days or weeks of abstinence, as withdrawal symptoms subside.”

By Dana Hinders

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How to plan an interventionAn intervention is often the best way for someone suffering from drug or alcohol addiction to begin their path to recovery. People struggling with substance abuse are often suffering from denial about the extent of their problem, so hearing firsthand how their actions have affected their loved ones can serve as a wake-up call.

This article outlines how to plan an intervention that will motivate your loved one to seek the help he or she needs.

Create an Intervention Team

An intervention planning team typically involves a small group of concerned family members and friends. However, you should not include anyone in the planning process who does not get along well with your loved one, is known for having an uncontrollable temper, or who is also suffering from an untreated substance abuse or mental health issue. It is vital to the success of the intervention that everyone be able to work together for the good of your loved one.

A healthcare professional such as a licensed counselor, social worker, psychiatrist, or psychologist may be necessary if your loved one has a history of mental illness and/or violent behavior. A professional can help you structure the intervention to reduce the risk of an aggressive outburst or self-harming behavior.

If your loved one’s faith is an important part of their life, including a pastor or religious leader may be appropriate.

Gather Information

Once you have assembled your intervention team, take time to discuss the specific addiction-related behaviors that are concerning you. This might include:

  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Changes in eating habits characterized by weight gain or weight loss
  • Sleeping significantly more or less than usual
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble at work or school
  • Difficulty remembering important details
  • Lack of interest in hobbies or socializing

Ask each person on your intervention team to write down the specific behaviors they’ve witnessed, as well as how this has made them feel. You can use these notes to make sure everyone stays on track during the intervention meeting.

Research Treatment Options

After you present your loved one with an expression of your concerns, you’ll need to present your request for treatment. Research counseling options and inpatient rehabs in your area to determine what is appropriate for your loved one’s needs. Contact your insurance company to learn more about applicable health insurance benefits for substance abuse treatment.

Your goal is to be able to provide your loved one with a pre-arranged treatment plan that includes clear guidelines, steps, and goals for taking control of his or her addiction. Someone struggling with substance abuse may not be thinking clearly enough to make these decisions, so taking control of deciding what steps are necessary is a compassionate way to express your concern.

Decide on Consequences

The ideal outcome for an intervention is that your loved one will accept your request to get help. However, you must be prepared to be met with a denial of the problem and a refusal to listen to your request.

Each person on the intervention team should decide what the consequences will be for refusing treatment. This may include steps such as no longer being allowed to have unsupervised visits with children or grandchildren, cutting off social contact, or being asked to move out of the family home.

Hold the Intervention

It’s a good idea to schedule an intervention for the time of day when your loved one is least likely to be impaired by drugs or alcohol. In many cases, this means planning the meeting during the early morning hours.

When you hold your intervention, the meeting should be structured as follows:

  1. Everyone individually shares examples of behavior they’ve witnessed and how these actions have caused problems–expressing their concern without becoming judgmental or accusatory.
  2. The group presents the person with a prearranged treatment plan.
  3. Each person shares what consequences they’ve decided are appropriate for refusing to accept substance abuse treatment.
  4. The group asks for an immediate decision as to whether or not treatment will be accepted.

If the offer of help is accepted, you should be prepared to have the treatment begin immediately. If you’ll be using the services of an inpatient rehab facility, this means you should have a bag packed and be ready to transport your loved on to the facility when the intervention is over.

If treatment is refused, the members of the intervention team must be prepared to follow through with the consequences they’ve agreed to. This can be emotionally trying, but is a necessary part of the process.

By Dana Hinders


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