What constitutes binge drinking, how you can tell if you are binge drinking and where you can go for help
- What is binge drinking?
- How is binge drinking different to drinking normally?
- The effects of binge drinking
- How to tell if you're a binge drinker
The definition of binge drinking used by the NHS and National Office of Statistics is drinking more than double the lower risk guidelines for alcohol in one session. Binge drinking for men, therefore, is drinking more than 8 units of alcohol – or about three pints of strong beer. For women, it’s drinking more than 6 units of alcohol, equivalent to two large glasses of wine (1).
The government advises that people should not regularly drink more than the lower risk guidelines of 3-4 units of alcohol for men (equivalent to a pint and a half of 4% beer) and 2-3 units of alcohol for women (equivalent to a 175 ml glass of wine). ‘Regularly’ means drinking every day or most days of the week.
Binge drinking for men, therefore, is drinking more than 8 units of alcohol – or about three pints of strong beer. For women, it’s drinking more than 6 units of alcohol, equivalent to two large glasses of wine.
How is binge drinking different to drinking normally?
Two large glasses of wine may not seem like very much. But drinking six units of alcohol in a short space of time – an hour, say – will raise your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and could make you drunk very quickly. Drinking the same amount over several hours, and accompanied by food, will not have the same effect on your BAC.
What are the effects of binge drinking?
Some studies show that drinking a large amount of alcohol over a short period of time may be significantly worse for your health than frequently drinking small quantities.
Getting very drunk can affect your physical and mental health:
- Accidents and falls are common because being drunk affects your balance and co-ordination. For example, alcohol is the single biggest cause of accidents at home (2).
- In extreme cases, you could die. Overdosing on alcohol can stop you breathing or stop your heart, or you could choke on your vomit.
- Binge drinking can affect your mood and your memory and in the longer term can lead to serious mental health problems.
More commonly, binge drinking can lead to anti-social, aggressive and violent behaviour.
The prevalence of binge drinking among young men and women has fallen since 1998. In 2010 the prevalence among young men remained at 24%, while among young women it fell to its lowest recorded level at 17% (3).
How can you tell if you’re a binge drinker?
Even if you don't drink alcohol every day, you could be a binge drinker if you regularly drink:
- to get drunk
- more than the lower risk guidelines in a single session
If you find it hard to stop drinking once you have started, you could also have a problem with binge drinking and possibly alcohol dependence.
Where can you get help with binge drinking?
If you are worried about your drinking habits, contact your GP. They will be able to suggest ways to help you cut down your drinking, and can also refer you for counselling or support services.
You can also call Drinkline, the national alcohol helpline, on 0800 917 8282. It’s free and confidential.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a support group for people who are dependent on alcohol. There are branches all over the country. Call 0845 769 7555.
(1) NHS Choices website. Binge drinking. The Information Standard member organisation. Page last reviewed: 31/12/2012.http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/alcohol/Pages/Bingedrinking.aspx
(2) Institute of Alcohol Studies website. Alcohol, accidents and injuries. Available at:http://www.ias.org.uk/Alcohol-knowledge-centre/Health-impacts/Factsheets/Alcohol-accidents-and-injuries.aspx
(3) Statistics on Alcohol, House of Commons Library, author: Rachael Harker. Last updated: 29 March 2012. Available at:http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/sn03311.pdf
Page updated: June 2014
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Lower risk guidelines
You should not regularly exceed:Find out how many units are in your favourite drink