Binge drinking typically refers to the process of drinking a large number of alcoholic beverages in a relatively short period of time. Though this amount may vary depending on the person drinking, and the region in which he or she is drinking, the amount is typically considered to be an amount sufficient to raise a person’s blood alcohol content level to 0.08% or above. Binge drinking is predominantly engaged in by young people between the ages of 18-25 years old, though it is not uncommon among people younger and older.
In the United States, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has established the 0.08% level of blood alcohol concentration as the minimum amount for a drinking session to be considered binge drinking. Based on the size of typical American drinks, this is usually reached by the consumption of five or more drinks in two hours by men, or four or more drinks in that time by women, often referred to as the “5/4 Rule.” In other regions, these numerical requirements may differ based on the size of the drinks. For example, in Australia this may be seven drinks for men, and five drinks for women due to the smaller alcohol content of most drinks in the country.
Binge drinking is often responsible for numerous health issues, including accidental injury, alcohol poisoning, transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, and liver disease. The blood alcohol concentration of someone who has been binge drinking can be much higher than the 0.08% minimum, and may be high enough to lead to fatal alcohol poisoning. Even if someone does not drink a directly lethal amount, it may be sufficient to lead to accidental injury or death from falls due to a lack of motor functions or due to operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol. Those under the effects of so much alcohol may also be more likely to engage in unprotected sex or to be the target of sexual assault.
The majority of binge drinkers are not dependent upon alcohol, and this type of drinking may be engaged in as often as several times each week by otherwise healthy individuals. Though there does seem to be some correlation between binge drinking and dependence, the direction of causality is difficult to establish. In the past, binge drinking was also often used to refer to a period of heavy drinking stretching out over a number of days in which a person would abandon all responsibility and self-control. Today, however, the term is primarily used to refer to a shorter period of intense drinking.