How Do You Define Binge Drinking? Six Signs And Symptoms

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated September 12, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Alcohol consumption can occur at varying levels, and binge drinking is one of the riskiest ways people can use alcohol. In this article, you will learn about binge drinking and how to identify its signs, its dangers, and how you can get help with this pattern of alcohol use, which is a public health concern.

What Is Binge Drinking?

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Binge Drinking May Indicate An Inability To Control Alcohol Use

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the act of binge drinking is defined as a drinking pattern that involves consuming enough alcohol to reach a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 g/dl within a short timeframe. To give some perspective on what the 0.08 g/dl means, in many states, this 0.08 g/dl threshold is the legal limit for driving under the influence; thus, if someone is pulled over, given a breathalyzer test, and arrested with a BAC of 0.08 g/dl, that will serve as evidence for a conviction.

To reach this BAC level, a man would need to consume five or more drinks or a woman would need to have consumed four or more drinks within two hours. However, this is a generalization, and it can vary based on a person’s weight, how much food they have consumed, and the percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV) of each beverage they consume.

It’s important to note that binging and excessive drinking are not the same things but are quite similar. Binging can fall into the excessive drinking category but not vice versa. Excessive drinking takes place over the span of a week and the standard for what is excessive varies for men and women. For women, excessive drinking refers to consuming four or more drinks in one day or eight or more drinks per week. For men, the standard is consuming five or more drinks in one day or 15 or more drinks per week.

The two terms are not always synonymous because someone can be a heavy drinker and have their drinks spread across a day or week. If all the drinks are not consumed within two hours, it’s not necessarily a case of binge drinking. Another misconception is that drinking alcohol in this manner means that someone has an alcohol use disorder (also known as alcoholism) or is dependent on alcohol. The majority of people who binge drink do not have an alcohol use disorder. However, it is still a form of alcohol overuse, and it increases the risk of developing alcohol use disorder somewhere down the line. 

How Many People Binge Drink And What Are the Risks?

About one in six adults in the United States binge drink, and 25% of them do so at least weekly. Those between the ages of 18 to 34 years old are most likely to binge drink, meaning many of them are drinking underage. According to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World, 90 percent of the drinks that are consumed by people under 21 years of age are in the form of binge drinks. 

However, binge drinking has no bounds, and those who participate in it make themselves prone to many different health issues and dangers such as the following:

  • Chronic disease in the organs, particularly in the heart and liver
  • Unsafe sex and sexually transmitted diseases
  • Unintentional pregnancies, miscarriages, fetal alcohol syndrome, and associated issues
  • Impotence and menstrual issues
  • Various cancers, especially in the mouth and esophagus
  • Poor academic and work performance due to cognitive impairments
  • Neurological problems, such as nerve damage or dementia
  • Risk of injuries and death from alcohol poisoning, automobile accidents, or falling
  • Various types of violence, homicide, and other legal issues

Not only is binge drinking harmful to an individual’s well-being, but the effects of binge drinking can also affect those around them. It can destroy relationships and cause families to fall apart, or potentially lead to loss of life, such as in a drunk driving accident.

Binge drinking also affects society as a whole, contributing to reduced productivity, increased use of healthcare resources, and increased criminal justice costs. 

The Signs Of Binge Drinking


Aside from the definition of binge drinking, people can look out for other indicators of binge drinking.

Frequent Blackouts

Binge drinkers will typically use alcohol to the point where it puts them to sleep or where they are still awake but will likely not remember certain conversations or events that occurred while they were intoxicated. If you or someone else frequently passes out after consuming alcohol, they may have been binge drinking. However, this indicator is not exclusive to binge drinkers, as someone who drinks heavily over a more sustained period can still blackout after a long night of drinking.

Memory Loss And Forgetfulness

This symptom is often closely tied with blacking out, as someone who passes out drunk after binge drinking might not remember the events that occurred before and during their binging. However, even if someone doesn’t blackout, they can still have trouble remembering these events. For instance, if someone went to a party and made sexual contact with someone, they may not remember the other person’s name or physical features.

Neglect Of Responsibilities

People who struggle with alcohol overuse might have trouble keeping up with important obligations because their drinking prevents them from doing it the next day, such as with an intense hangover, or they might skip them in favor of consuming more alcohol. This can lead to many issues in an individual’s personal life, such as challenges with school, work, and relationships with others.

Risky Behavior

Excessive drinking can lead people to become more prone to various types of behaviors that can be harmful to themselves or others around them. Some common examples are unsafe sex, fighting, gambling, and driving a vehicle while under the influence. M drugs, including prescription medications, with alcohol is a risky behavior that can be life-threatening.

Excessive Weekend And Holiday Drinking

People can have a drink or two to relax or have fun while in the company of others. However, binge drinkers will often use weekends and holidays to justify and rationalize their consumption of alcohol. For instance, many will claim that they only drink on certain days, and because they don’t do it every day, that makes it acceptable to them. Even if it occurs on just a single holiday or weekend evening, it is still an episode of binge drinking despite it not being multiple times per month like the national average.

Consumption Beyond Intent

Many binge drinkers walk into a happy hour, dinner, or a relaxing time at home with the plan to consume a drink or two, but once they get going, there is a pretty good chance they will not stop, at least until there is a blackout or someone cuts them off from the alcohol. Nonetheless, after the first drink, sometimes very little time can pass before they have consumed four or five. 

How To Get Help For Binge Drinking

Binge Drinking May Indicate An Inability To Control Alcohol Use

Although there isn’t a formal diagnosis for binge drinking disorder, like there are for binge eating disorders or alcohol use disorder, you can still get help.

It is recommended that you seek out a mental health professional who specializes in addiction or substance use disorder. Even though most binge drinkers do not have a dependency on alcohol, a specialist in this area can help you understand the thoughts that contribute to drinking behaviors and provide advice on how to change your habits.

BetterHelp’s licensed counselors are available online to help you learn what causes you to binge drink and teach you effective coping strategies to engage when you feel the urge to consume alcohol in excess. Online therapy may feel like a more approachable treatment format for people who feel discouraged from seeking treatment due to the stigma of binge drinking or alcoholism. Online therapy is often a more cost-effective option than face-to-face therapy, which can be a factor for someone who spends a considerable amount of money on alcohol, to the extent that their binge drinking is causing them financial difficulties.

In a recent study, researchers set out to evaluate the effectiveness of an online therapy program with regard to reducing weekly alcohol consumption and improving the overall health status of its participants. In a randomized controlled trial of 156 participants divided evenly into a three-month e-therapy group and a waiting list control group, study leaders were able to analyze the outcomes of 102 people who completed the assessment after three months. Members of the e-therapy group decreased their average weekly alcohol consumption by 28.8 units compared with only 3.1 units in the control group. The main reasons for 54 participants dropping out of the program were related to personal reasons not connected to the intervention, discomfort with the treatment protocol, or satisfaction with the positive results achieved before the end of the three months.

There are many types of therapeutic interventions for binge drinking, including group therapy. Support groups can also be useful for those who plan on abstaining from alcohol, and those who have an alcohol use disorder can benefit from a rehabilitation program where they can detox safely and under caring supervision. 

Lastly, in addition to finding professional support, you can learn how to cope without alcohol by replacing it with healthier activities in your life. Exercising, finding an exciting new hobby, and simply interacting with those you care about while being alcohol-free are all potentially effective options that can be used to overcome binge drinking.


Quitting or reducing alcohol consumption isn’t guaranteed to be easy, but it’s certainly possible. Understanding the impetus behind your drinking behaviors can help motivate you to change. If you recognize the signs and behaviors of binge drinking in yourself or someone you love, online therapy can help you address your relationship with alcohol and learn new coping strategies.

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