How to stop binge drinking

Binge drinking consists of drinking more than eight units of alcohol in a single session for men, and more than six units of alcohol in a single session for women. Almost a quarter of the adult population in England and Scotland regularly drink over the Chief Medical Officer’s low-risk guidelines (1).

Over half a million adults in the UK are classed as being dependent on alcohol and it is estimated that only 18% of those are receiving treatment (1).

With alcohol misuse being one of the biggest contributing factors for ill-health, death, and disability among people aged 15 – 49 (1), it is important that we understand the risks associated with binge drinking.

Why do I binge drink?

There are many reasons why a person might binge drink. Some of the most common reasons are:

  • Peer pressure
  • To numb feelings of depression or anxiety
  • To help them relax
  • Low cost of and easy access to alcohol
  • Boredom

Many people associate alcohol with reward, for example, they finally finished a big project at work, and so they reward themselves with a few bottles of wine. Other people use alcohol to loosen their inhibitions and relate alcohol to having fun nights out with friends. There could be a multitude of reasons why a person may binge drink, and it is often difficult to pinpoint the reason for many people.

Binge drinking vs alcoholism

Binge drinking is not the same as alcoholism. Alcoholism is defined by several characteristics such as an overwhelming need to consume alcohol daily, a mental obsession with accessing alcohol, downplaying the addiction to friends and family, and alcohol having a negative impact on several aspects of the user’s life, such as relationships and jobs.

However, binge drinking can lead to Alcohol Abuse Disorder (AUD) so it is important to be careful.

Some other symptoms of Alcohol Abuse Disorder are:

  • Continuing to drink despite the health problems you know it is causing
  • Regularly needing more amounts of alcohol to feel the effects
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining alcohol, drinking alcohol, or recovering from the effects of alcohol
  • Promising yourself or others that you will cut down your alcohol consumption but failing to do so.
  • Regular strong cravings for alcohol
  • Unable to stop once you’ve started until you are very drunk or pass out
  • Missing out on activities or events so you can stay home and drink
  • Failure to uphold responsibilities at home or work because of alcohol
  • Drinking when you know it is dangerous, e.g. before driving
  • Withdrawal symptoms if you do try to quit.

Dangerous effects of binge drinking

Binge drinking is associated with many long-term and short-term health issues, both mental and physical. People who binge drink have a higher probability of becoming dependent on alcohol, this is because, over time, they will need to consume more alcohol to achieve the desired effect.

Other adverse effects binge drinking has on your health are:

  • Impaired judgment
  • Loss of self-control
  • Lack of co-ordination
  • Increased risk of injuries from accidents, falls, or burns
  • Risk of unsafe or unprotected sex
  • Heightened risk of violence or assault
  • Risk of sexually transmitted diseases
  • Weakened immune system
  • Risk of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder or birth defects
  • Increased risk of high blood pressure and strokes
  • Risk of pancreatitis
  • Liver disease including cirrhosis

Many of these effects might not be immediately evident, making many people believe that their binge drinking is causing no negative long-term side effects.

Is occasional binge drinking ok?

Alcohol is bad for your health and realistically, every alcoholic beverage is causing some sort of harm. However, many people refuse to give up drinking completely and there are certain steps you can take to make sure that you are consuming alcohol more safely.

Some ways to consume alcohol more safely are:

  • Limit the number of drinks you have in one session
  • Do not drink alcohol on an empty stomach
  • Drink plenty of water between drinks
  • Make sure you have several alcohol-free days during the week
  • Sip your drinks slowly

How to quit binge drinking

It is important to know that you are not alone, and you can easily find the help and support you need to help you overcome your binge drinking. Try not to keep your problem bottled up, once you talk about it with someone you trust you will immediately feel a little lighter.

There are several steps you can take to get help. Some of these are:

1. Visit your GP

While it may seem like a scary prospect to speak to someone about your binge drinking habits, your GP will have experience in this area and will know ways to offer you help. They might recommend some local support groups and offer some advice on how to cut down your drinking.

2. Find a support group

You don’t always need to go through your GP to find a local support group. Adfam (3) is a charity dedicated to helping people overcome addictions and can offer help and support, as well as give information on support groups local to you. It is comforting to talk to people who have gone through what you are going through, and it is good to know that you are not alone.

3. Change your environment

If you are routinely in the company of people who are encouraging you to binge drink, it is best to take a step away from those people and surround yourself with people who will be more understanding of your concerns. Avoiding people and situations that might cause you to binge drink is an important step in getting better.

4. Ask for support

Confide in someone you trust about your desire to cut back or abstain from binge drinking. They can keep you accountable and it makes quitting much easier. Try to make sure it is someone who doesn’t routinely drink and does not rely on alcohol to have a good time. If you are attending an event in which alcohol will be served, try to bring your support person with you.

5. Set targets and reward yourself

Use personal positive reinforcement to help you reach your goals and reward yourself when you do reach them. A good way to do this is to save all the money you would normally have spent on buying alcohol and when you’ve gone a certain amount of time without drinking, treat yourself to something nice.

6. Consider abstinence

It might be a good idea to consider completely abstaining from alcohol altogether if you find that you cannot restrict yourself to just one or two drinks. This may require a little more support, but it will also be better for you in the long run and means that you are less likely to rebound and binge again.

7. Set limits

If abstinence isn’t for you, it is a good idea to put a limit on the number of alcoholic drinks you allow yourself in one sitting. Keep this limit low; two is usually a good number, and drink non-alcoholic drinks for the remainder of the night. You can also limit the days of the week in which you allow yourself to drink, or only allow yourself to drink during certain hours.

8. Find distractions

If you find yourself binge-drinking out of habit or boredom, try to fill that void with something more meaningful. Try exploring new hobbies and interests and channeling your energy into something healthier. This does not have to be too strenuous, either. For example, watch an educational documentary on a topic that interests you, take a free online course or go for a nature walk.