By David Joel Miller.
Binge drinking may be more dangerous than we thought.
One drink per day for thirty days, for many people this is no big problem. No drinks for thirty days and then binge drink thirty drinks in one day, that would be a huge, maybe fatal, problem.
Thirty drinks, if consumed rapidly enough and kept down would result in a “theoretical” blood alcohol level of .60 which is enough alcohol in one person to have made seven and a half people legally drunk. At that blood alcohol level, the person would probably not need treatment. They would already be dead.
Blood alcohol levels of .50 to .60 are likely to be fatal. But even lower levels can kill or permanently injure a person. Alcohol kills more people in the United States every year than ALL DRUGS, legal or illegal combined (not counting nicotine.) Even when people die from other drugs, they typically have alcohol in their blood stream.
To be fair, not everyone who drinks, binge drinks and gets drunk. About half of all Americans old enough to drink have not had a drink in the last thirty days. Those who drink a lot, damage themselves and others a lot.
The twenty percent of Americans who consume the most alcohol, the frequent binge drinkers, consume 80% of all the alcohol sold. The majority of all the people in prison around here were drunk or high in the 24 hours before they committed the crime that sent them to prison.
People who drink rapidly and reach high blood alcohol levels are likely to have blackouts.
Even at much lower levels, we find that “binge drinkers,” those who consume larger than typical amounts of alcohol at one occasion, are 55 times more likely to attempt suicide.
The damage alcohol does to the body depends on the level of alcohol in the bloodstream. Our way of assessing risk, based on the number of drinks during a single “drinking episode” is biased towards underestimating the extent of binge drinking. Not everyone who drinks gets the same result.
The blood alcohol level is dependent on a number of factors and the number of drinks is only one of those factors.
Body weight influences blood alcohol levels. If a one hundred pound person and a two hundred pound person have the same number of “standard drinks” the one hundred pound person will have a significantly higher blood alcohol level.
Alcohol is soluble in water, the more water in the system the lower the blood alcohol level. Men have more water per pound of weight than women. This means that if a man and a woman of the same weight drink the same amount of alcohol the woman ends up with a higher blood alcohol level.
Liver function also affects the body’s ability to process alcohol. A damaged liver and the drink will stay in your system longer.
Age is a factor. You can put color on your hair but you can’t pretty up your liver. As you age the liver gets old and tired. It won’t process as much alcohol per hour. An old liver will result in higher blood alcohol levels. Studies tell us that the “safe” level of alcohol consumption for an “older person” is maybe half what it was for a younger person.
If one glass of wine a day is good for you at age 30, three glasses a week will be your max at age 80 or so. I know there are exceptions, don’t email about your grandparent who still drinks a tall one every day and is in good health. Studies say that for the elderly, most of them, 3 drinks a week would be all that is safe.
Binge drinking is defined as 4 drinks on one drinking occasion for a woman and five drinks for a man. We have already underscored that for people of low body weight or the elderly or woman these numbers are way too high.
Who is at highest risk for medical problems from binge drinking? Four groups are at highest risk, the young, the old, the pregnant and the alcoholic.
The young have more drinking problems.
They don’t know the risks and the results. They can get drunk, hurt someone, be in trouble and there goes the life. Almost all people with a substance use disorder become alcoholics or addicts before the end of their twenties.
The elderly have lots of substance use problems.
These folks are not exempt. In more than half of all hospital emergency room admissions of senior citizens, the elderly person is drunk or high when the accident occurs. One reason seniors are falling down and breaking hips is they are stoned.
Seniors may become depressed when they retire or end up living alone. They may drink; take prescription drugs and even illicit drugs. Put that all together and it is easy to have substance abuse get out of control in the elderly.
The pregnant should not drink.
Any alcohol is bad for the developing fetus, the more alcohol the worse the damage. We can’t always see the damage as it can hide in lower IQ’s, retardation and learning disabilities. Alcohol induces “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder” which is the largest source of preventable birth defects.
The alcoholic will not be able to safely drink.
As many an alcoholic will tell you “one is too many and a thousand is never enough.” The hallmark of alcoholism is loss of control. An alcoholic has lost control of how much they will drink once they get started. The only “safe amount” for someone with a history of alcoholism to drink is – none.
Many drug addicts get into recovery and then fool themselves by thinking “I never had a problem with alcohol so I can drink safely.” Scratch a drug addict and you will find an alcoholic. The same seems to hold true for anyone who has had any other form of impulse control problem.
Consider for a moment. If you drink multiple drinks, most days or end up drunk when you drink you may have a drinking problem. If you binge drink, drink with the intent to get drunk or buzzed, you are in the highest risk group.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books