Binge drinking

What constitutes binge drinking, how you can tell if you are binge drinking and where you can go for help

The NHS definition of binge drinking is drinking lots of alcohol in a short space of time or drinking to get drunk or feel the effects of alcohol (1). The amount of alcohol someone needs to drink in a session for it to be classed as ‘binging’ is less clearly defined but the marker used by the NHS (2) and National Office of Statistics is drinking more than double the government's lower risk guidelines for alcohol in one session.  

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 is an alcohol unit? Find out here...

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. (3)
  • 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.

Alcohol is a factor in:

  • One in three (30%) sexual offences
  • One in three (33%) burglaries
  • One in two (50%) street crimes.

Binge drinking is most common among 16–24-year-olds, and is more common among men than women.

And binge drinking when you’re young can become a habit. Studies have shown that those who drink a lot in their teens and early 20s are up to twice as likely as light drinkers to be binge drinking 25 years later (4)

Just what is it about alcohol that so often leads to fights and arguments? Find out here...

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:

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.


Page updated: March 2014