A recent survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that binge drinking is the most common pattern of alcohol abuse in the United States. On average, one in six adults binge drinks four times a month. It’s defined as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks in two hours or less for men—four or more for women. Oftentimes, binge drinking is overlooked as a serious problem because those who engage in it can function fairly well at work or at home, and they don’t feel the need to drink everyday. Here are the signs:
1. Feeling guilty about, or ashamed of, your drinking.
2. Lying to friends and family about it.
3. Drinking quickly to get drunk.
4. Friends or family members express concern.
5. Having blackouts or forgetting what you did when drinking.
6. Drinking more than you intended and not being able to stick to the limits you set.
7. Not partaking in things that are important to you because of your drinking. For example, you’re normally a diligent worker but find yourself putting off or avoiding tasks because you’re hung-over.
Most binge drinkers began drinking in adolescence or early adulthood, which is why it more commonly affects young adults 18-34. As with other types of substance abuse, binge drinking often masks underlying mental-health issues like depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. A family history of alcohol abuse and the expectation that drinking will “make things better” are also contributing factors.
Alcohol is behind 80,000 deaths annually, and it’s also one of the most preventable causes of deaths in the United States. Binge drinking increases the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. But it is a treatable condition. Here are a few things you can do right away:
1. Be honest with yourself about the physical and emotional consequences of your drinking. Reflect on how it affects all areas of your daily life.
2. Learn to recognize the triggers. Identifying the specific feelings and circumstances that prompt your drinking is paramount to stopping the cycle.
3. Learn to be less critical of—and more patient with—yourself. Profound feelings of shame, guilt and self-criticism can also hinder some from seeking treatment. Remember: Significant changes won’t happen overnight.
4. Set clear goals for your drinking. If you decide to cut back, determine the days of the week when you’ll drink and when you won’t. Be sure to set a limit on the number of drinks you have.
5. Examine your drinking habits. Warning signs include drinking too quickly and drinking to get drunk.
6. Seek professional help. It can help you identify your triggers and learn healthy coping mechanisms.
Dr. Paula Durlofsky is a psychologist in private practice in Bryn Mawr, whose practice focuses on psychological issues affecting individuals, couples and families.
Dr. Durlofsky treats a wide variety of disorders and has a special interest in issues affecting women. She is affiliated with Bryn Mawr Hospital, Lankenau Hospital, the Women’s Resource Center in Wayne and the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia. In addition to her practice, Dr. Durlofsky is a workshop facilitator and blogger.
If you have questions or feedback for Dr. Durlofsky, please don’t hesitate to reach out to her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @DrPDurlofsky.