Binge drinking: How bad is it?

A drinking spree can be costly on many levels

Many people enjoy a drink now and then. But for some people, it’s hard to leave it at that. One drink becomes another — and then another and another.

That’s called binge drinking. And it’s a risky way to use alcohol. If it sounds familiar for you or someone you care about, here’s information to consider — and how to find help.

Q. What is binge drinking?


Binge drinking is when someone consumes a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time. Usually this means having many drinks — four for women or five for men — within a couple hours.

Of course, keep in mind that even less alcohol than this can be dangerous — especially if you’re driving.

Q. Is binge drinking an illness?


It’s possible. Drinking more than you intended is one of the signs of an alcohol use disorder — even if you go days between binges. See “What to do next.”

Moderate drinking means no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two for men. Some people should drink less or not at all.*

Q. What problems can binge drinking cause?


Waking up the next day feeling miserable is just one consequence of drinking too much. If you overindulge, you may risk hurting yourself or others. For example, you may be more likely to:

  • Have a serious injury, such as from a car crash or fall
  • Behave inappropriately or make risky decisions — for instance, getting into fights or having unsafe sex
  • Black out — and forget what happened
  • Be vulnerable to sexual assault and other violence
  • Do damage to close relationships
  • Land in serious legal trouble, such as from drunk driving

It can also be deadly. Drinking too much too quickly can lead to alcohol poisoning. That’s when so much alcohol enters a person’s bloodstream — from the stomach and intestine — that it can lead to a coma or death.

If you think someone may have signs of alcohol poisoningOpens a new window, get medical help right away. Cold showers, coffee or “walking it off” will not reverse the effects of an alcohol overdose — and could actually make things worse.

What to do next

Do you have difficulty drinking in moderation? Talk with your doctor. There are effective treatments, such as counseling, peer support and medication, that may help.** And check with your workplace. It may provide an employee assistance program that can put you in touch with professional help.

If you’re a parent to a teen or college student, consider sharing this information about the dangers of binge drinking. 

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*Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

**Check your benefit plan to see what services may be covered.