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Binge drinking is a dangerous activity that has unfortunately become all too common. Perhaps associated most often with college students and young adults, binge drinking also occurs among high school students and older adults at alarming rates. According to a new study done by researchers at the Behavioral Neuroscience at Oregon Health & Science University, binge drinking affects men and women differently, pointing to the need for different treatments for alcohol use disorder, depending on the individual.

Binge Drinking Prevalence

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. This typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks or women consume 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours. Most people who binge drink are not alcohol dependent, but binge drinking is often the start of alcoholism dependence and can quickly lead to it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that:

  • One in six US adults binge drinks about four times a month, consuming about seven drinks per binge. This results in 17 billion total binge drinks consumed by adults annually, or 467 binge drinks per binge drinker.
  • Binge drinking is most common among younger adults aged 18–34 years, but more than half of the total binge drinks are consumed by those aged 35 and older.
  • Binge drinking is twice as common among men than among women. Four in five total binge drinks are consumed by men.
  • Binge drinking is more common among people with household incomes of $75,000 or more and higher educational levels. Binge drinkers with lower incomes and educational levels, however, consume more binge drinks per year.
  • Over 90% of U.S. adults who drink excessively report binge drinking in the past 30 days.
  • Most people younger than age 21 who drink alcohol report binge drinking, often consuming large amounts.

Dangers of Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is dangerous and leads to many health problems. It causes problems with coordination and motor function, leading to accidents, injuries, falls, and car accidents. It also causes lack of judgment which makes people prone to violence and sexual assault. Sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancies, and developmental issues with the unborn baby are also risks associated with binge drinking. Health issues like high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, liver disease, and various cancers are associated with binge drinking. Memory and learning problems, as well as alcohol dependence, are also consequences of binge drinking.

Drinking in general, and especially binge drinking, is also financially costly. Financial trouble associated with loss of productivity, health care costs, criminal justice costs, and other costs have been linked to binge drinking. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drinking too much, including binge drinking, cost the United States $249 billion in 2010. Binge drinking was responsible for 77% of these costs, or $191 billion.

Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

Binge drinking is dangerous and communities should work to educate the public about the risks and put prevention campaigns into place. When it comes to treatment for individuals with alcoholism, more research is helpful in determining the effectiveness of the methods of treatment.

The recent study, which was published in Frontiers in Genetics, concluded that binge drinking affects men and women differently on a molecular level. In women, binge drinking affects the genes associated with hormone signaling and immune function in the brain, while men experience a change in genes associated with nerve signaling. What this ultimately means is that the person’s sex should be considered when determining the therapies, intervention, and especially medications to be used during treatment of alcohol use disorder.

More research will need to be done to determine the extent of the differences between male and female brains when it comes to alcoholism and addiction, but a general rule is that individualized treatment is the most effective way to help anyone struggling with any kind of addiction. When choosing a treatment program, individuals and families should look for programs that keep up to date on the latest research, but also those that offer personalized treatment programming, based on the individual’s unique needs. This will ensure the person is receiving help that will be the most effective for them and will offer the best chance at long term success.