The NHS defines binge drinking as “drinking lots of alcohol in a short space of time or drinking to get drunk”. They go further to say this can be quantified by drinking over 8 units in a single session for men and over 6 units for women.
For women this means 2 pints of 5% strength beer or 2 large (250ml) glasses of 12% wine, which is about three quarters of a bottle of wine.
For men this means 5 bottles (330ml) of 5% strength beer or 5 small (125ml) glasses of 13% wine, which is almost a whole bottle of wine.
Although binge drinking is not defined as alcoholism or alcohol dependency, it can be just as risky and carries several issues and can lead to alcohol dependence. The people of the UK do like to drink. In fact, in a study last year led by Professor Winstock, Consultant Psychiatrist & Addiction Medicine Specialist, it was found that people in the UK get drunk more often than anyone in the world.
Binge Drinking Has Serious Risks.
The number of people in England who have died because of alcohol is at its highest level since records began. According to the NHS someone is admitted to hospital every 30 seconds where drinking was a factor. This is worrying enough but with hospitals bursting at the seams due to COVID there is a real opportunity for people to take the pressure of them by addressing their alcohol use.
Alcohol poisoning, caused by binge drinking, is the leading cause of poisoning in England, especially among young people but there is an emerging picture of it now being seen more frequently in older people too.
Signs And Symptoms Of Alcohol Poisoning?
The signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:
- Severely slurred speech
- Loss of co-ordination
- Irregular or slow breathing
- Pale or blue-tinged skin caused by low body temperature (hypothermia)
- Being conscious but unresponsive
- Passing out and being unconscious
In the most severe cases, alcohol poisoning can lead to coma, brain damage and death. Alcohol poisoning and binge drinking is therefore serious business.
If you are drinking more than 12 units in a session (just over a bottle of wine, 4 pints of strong larger/beer or 6 large (double) whiskeys then:
- You’re at high risk of developing alcohol poisoning, particularly if you’re drinking these in a short space of time.
- The alcohol is now interfering with the automatic functions of your body, such as your breathing, heart rate and gag reflex.
When To Seek Medical Support?
According to NHS guidelines if you suspect someone has alcohol poisoning you should dial 999 immediately to request an ambulance.
They go on to say that while you’re waiting:
- Try to keep them sitting up and awake.
- Give them water if they can drink it.
- If they have passed out, lie them on their side in the recovery position and check they’re breathing properly.
- Keep them warm.
- Stay with them.
- Never leave a person alone to “sleep it off”.
One of the issues of drinking is that the level of alcohol in a person’s blood can continue to rise for up to 30 to 40 minutes after their last drink. This can cause their symptoms to suddenly become much more severe.
NHS guidance says that you also should not try to sober someone up by giving them coffee or putting them under a cold shower. These methods do not help and may even be dangerous.
The Dangers Of Alcohol Poisoning
Alcohol poisoning, through binge drinking, is extremely common and dangerous and can cause:
- Individuals to stop breathing.
- Induce heart attacks.
- Death by choking on one’s own vomit.
- Individuals to become severely dehydrated, which can cause permanent brain damage in extreme cases.
- Severe hypothermia
- Fits (seizures) because of lowered blood sugar levels.
- Repeated vomiting and retching which can lead to vomiting blood, caused by a torn blood vessel at the junction of the stomach and gullet.
Other Issues associated With Binge Drinking
Binge drinking is associated with many other problems such as:
- Unintentional injuries such as car crashes, falls and burns.
- Violence including domestic violence and sexual assault.
- Unsafe sex which could lead to sexually transmitted diseases.
- Poor decision making i.e. unintentional sexual encounters or putting yourself in risky situations.
- Unintended pregnancy and poor pregnancy outcomes, including miscarriage and stillbirth.
- Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
- Sudden infant death syndrome.
- Chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and liver disease.
- Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, oesophagus, liver, and colon.
- Memory and learning problems.
- Loss of possessions, in particular mobile phones.
What Are My Options If I Have Developed A Pattern Of Binge Drinking?
Well, the first thing is to get help. Stopping and staying stopped is not as easy as it sounds.
Stopping and staying stopped is a about a psychological shift and lifestyle change which best comes about through psychological therapies and peer support. Peer support like SMART or AA is great and is highly recommended, but they are not a replacement for psychotherapy or are psychotherapy. Neither are they run by trained addiction psychotherapists and neither will get to the fundamental bottom of your alcohol use from a psychological perspective. Getting to the psychological reasons why you binge drink and doing something about this is fundamental to long term behaviour change and staying stopped.
There is no magic pill or magic wand to stopping and staying stopped. There is no quick fix, it takes the right levels and types of support, time, motivation, and hard work.
Giving up binge drinking after prolonged use can be extremely difficult because the body is so used to functioning with the substance. Dealing with the come down is one thing but learning to stop and stay stopped is another.
If you are concerned about your relationship with alcohol, or someone else’s, and want to know what the options are for stopping and staying stopped then call us now on 0208 191 9191 or jump onto Live Chat/email us directly at https://www.helpmestop.org.uk/contact-us/
Help Me Stop’s intensive non-residential outpatient Dayhab alcohol treatment programme is an effective psychological solution that also offers 3 months of free accessible aftercare and family support options. Treatment is delivered face to face over 6 weeks.
For those adults who are working and can’t access our services in London we offer a 6-week online outpatient alcohol treatment programme, run by the same therapists that provide the face-to-face programme.
Chris Cordell is Help Me Stop’s Director of Operations and is a senior associate member of the Royal Society of Medicine, Certified International Recovery Specialist, member of the International Society of Addiction Medicine and a member of the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals.