The Case For Quitting Binge Drinking
Imagine this scene.
You’re supposed to grab dinner with some friends after work on Friday. Last weekend you went overboard with the binge drinking and paid for it dearly well into Tuesday, so you’ve decided to “take it easy” this weekend.
You’ll just have a glass of wine or beer with dinner and make it an early evening, maybe even hit up the gym Saturday morning. There’s a class you’ve been meaning to check out.
Except at dinner, that glass of wine felt really good and you were having such a good conversation with your friends. You didn’t want that vibe to end, so somebody (maybe it was you) suggested taking the party to the bar next door and before you know it, you’re laying in your bed with the spins at 3 o’clock in the morning.
You’ve got your trusted puke bucket by your side, a notification on your phone that you just spent a small fortune that evening, and a swirling voice in your head begging to know why you insist on doing this to yourself.
Side Effects of Binge Drinking
Binge drinking is wreaking havoc on your beautiful body. What qualifies as binge drinking?
According to the CDC, binge drinking is 4 or more drinks within the span of 2 hours for women and 5 or more within the same timespan for men. At this point, you may be blushing a little because you know you’ve downed twice that amount in two hours on more than one occasion.
We know that binge drinking increases the chances of us making an ass of ourselves and feeling pretty horrible the next day or two, but what else could be going on?
Binge Drinking & Breast Cancer
When we’re young, it’s easy to fall victim to the immortality trap.
We rebound from partying more quickly, eat what we want, and immerse ourselves in as much risk as we can. And we do it to our detriment.
For women reading this article, studies have shown that women who drink THREE alcoholic beverages in a week having a 15% higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Think about that.
If you’re binge drinking when you go out, chances are you are doubling or tripling that in a single evening. How many times are you doing that per week?
For every additional drink you consume per day over the three per week, you increase your risk by 10%.
Although the risk of developing breast cancer under age 40 is still relatively low, your drinking habits in your youth could impact your chances of developing it later in life.
Binge Drinking & Other Cancers
Breast cancer is not the only risk associated with drinking. Any amount of alcohol consumption has been linked to higher rates of various cancers including head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer and colorectal cancer.
If you have a family history of cancer, it is especially critical for you to stop binge drinking sooner than later.
Social Pressure and Binge Drinking
Depending on your culture and social circle, it’s possible that you belong to a group of people for whom heavy partying and binge drinking is the norm.
Maybe you’ve tried to quit in the past, but get lured back by peer pressure from friends who want to “turn up” on the weekends.
When I was in college, binge drinking was like a badge of honor. People bragged about how wasted they got, what they did as a result, or how close they came to being hospitalized with alcohol poisoning.
Looking back, I can’t help but think how insane that is.
Oh my god! Last weekend was crazy! She totally cheated on her boyfriend and then almost choked on her own vomit. Hahaha.
There’s no shame in taking a step back and saying to yourself, “This is stupid. I don’t want to make myself sick just to have fun.”
And then there’s the more tricky realization that if your friendships and social circle is predicated entirely on getting wasted together, it may be time to rethink those relationships.
You don’t want to lose precious years of your life to hanging out with people who serve no genuine good for you in the long term.
Additional Reasons To Stop Binge Drinking
For young people, particularly college students, here are some additional statistics to think about.
Here are some other stats worth considering if you’re young and binge drinking.
- At least 50% of student sexual assault involves alcohol.
- Approximately 90% of rape perpetuated by an acquaintance of the victim involves alcohol.
- About 20-25% of students will be sexually assaulted on college campuses.
Every year 88,000 people die from alcohol related causes. It is the third most preventable death in the United States.
Binge drinking causes far more than hangovers and regrettable decisions. It’s time to stop.
The Causes Behind Binge Drinking
We’ve all been guilty of going out, overdoing it, swearing that we would NEVER do that again and then, of course we do it again.
As far as symptoms go, the hangover from binge drinking is somewhere around the vicinity of the flu meets food poisoning meets dying of thirst. Yet we go through it ON PURPOSE.
Sure, we all have our own reasons for doing the dumb things that we do, but on a scientific level, what is driving us to binge?
Let’s geek out for a minute.
Why it’s hard to stop binge drinking
According to a new study recently published in Forbes, scientists may know why we binge drink even when we want to stop.
Alcohol “works” by stimulating neurons in the “pleasure center” of our brains which releases dopamine (that happy feeling).
We like feeling good, so the brain tells us to keep going back for more.
The specific area in the brain that alcohol affects is called the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Scientists have found that alcohol blocks a key potassium channel in this area of the brain.
The result is a full on neuron party in your brain and the release of more dopamine. Without this potassium channel, alcohol can’t stimulate neurons, and thus can’t release the much-beloved dopamine rush to our brains.
Why does this matter for binge drinking?
In the study, mice that had been genetically modified to have a slight reduction in this potassium channel were 30% more likely to binge drink than normal mice.
That means there’s a potential genetic component to binging. People who have less of this potassium channel have to drink more alcohol in order to get the same reward as people with normal levels.
For some, binge drinking could be a way to cope with unresolved issues or trauma, an indication of an alcohol addiction, or a matter of willpower.
For others, however, there could be a genetic component causing them to binge and making it harder to stop.
How To Stop Binge Drinking
There are resources online that will tell you to moderate your drinking.
I don’t think moderation works for a variety of reasons, but namely because if you had the ability to moderate, you wouldn’t be on the internet trying to figure out how to stop binge drinking.
Here are some suggestions that I think are worth attempting:
Change your scene.
If your social life feels like an eternal frat party (or maybe it literally is because you’re in college), it’s time to find other scenes to get into. What should you do? That’s up to you, but choose activities that are not 100% alcohol centered.
Lay off the booze for awhile.
Not everybody who binges has an alcohol problem, but everyone who has an alcohol problem probably binges. It’s up to you to determine which category you fall into.
If you don’t think you’re dependent on alcohol, try going without it to see how you feel.
Take two weeks and do some soul searching about how much you’ve been drinking. Afterwards, ask yourself why you’ve been drinking so much and what you want to do moving forward.
Personally, I find listing all the things bingeing has ruined for me to be very helpful. Examples on my list have included: ruined weekends, embarrassing text messages, weight gain, bad skin, and lack of motivation.
You know you want to stop binge drinking, so you need to figure out the causes so you have reasons to keep moving forward.
Think about quitting booze for good.
It may not be the most popular decision, but it could be the right one. After you’ve abstained for a couple of weeks, try extending your sobriety to a month or two.
Maybe you’ve discovered some deeper issues through this process.
Find a counselor and get to work. Check in with yourself. If you feel like you can have a healthy relationship with alcohol, give it a go.
Eventually, you will find out where you stand with it.
Join Sober Online Communities
Whether it’s the Soberish private Facebook group or another group on online or in real life, surrounding yourself with people who are also questioning alcohol’s role in their life is incredibly helpful.
Even if you don’t intend to give up alcohol completely, hearing from people who don’t make alcohol the center of their lives is helpful to breaking out of the mindset that you have to get drunk.
Find things to get involved in that don’t center around alcohol
If you want to see what else is out there besides getting trashed every weekend with the same people, you have to be proactive.
What do you enjoy doing?
If you like to cook, take some classes. Want to make jewelry and get that Etsy store off the ground? Find a place to start learning the tricks of the trade.
When I was a heavy drinker, I frequently avoided doing things I found interesting because A. they didn’t involve alcohol, and B. I didn’t think they’d have potential romantic partners there.
Those were my priorities. Dating and getting drunk. Sometimes at the same time.
Don’t be like that, too.
The biggest thing I realized after I quit drinking was just how many people successful, creative, very cool people don’t drink or drink very little because their lives revolve around their passions and work.
I didn’t see examples of this until I quit. You may experience something similar.
Fortunately, the trend towards binge drinking is beginning to reverse itself.
Young people are drinking less, which means as a culture we could be turning a page. That’s the good news.
As binge drinking becomes less socially acceptable among young people, my hope is that we will start to see major cultural shifts in the ways we consume alcohol.
Whatever you decide, commit to doing something different. Find ways to rearrange your life so that binge drinking is no longer at the center of it.
And never be afraid to reach out for help if you find you can’t.
Related articles on quitting binge drinking
The Dangers Of Binge Drinking
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, here are some resources to help get you through.
- In the USA https://www.alcohol.org/
- In Canada http://www.ccdus.ca/Eng/Pages/Addictions-Treatment-Helplines-Canada.aspx
- In the UK https://www.adfam.org.uk/help-for-families/finding-support/call-a-helpline
- In Australia http://www.recoveroz.com.au/how-to-find-help/help-lines.html
- In NZ https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/get-help/in-crisis/helplines
Resources for infographic facts on the risks of binge drinking