What is binge drinking?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Drinking

Binge drinking.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Why binge drinking matters.

Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that has been linked to a host of physical, mental and behavioral problems.

In the binge drinking pattern, the drinker consumes a large quantity of alcohol on one drinking occasion. Anyone might experience an occasional episode of heavy drinking but with consistently heavy drinkers or binge drinkers, their typical pattern of consumption is that when they drink the get drunk.

The concept of binge drinking relates more to how high the level of alcohol in the bloodstream goes rather than when or how much the drinker consumed over a unit of time.

So if someone chooses to drink a lot one night why is this of any concern to others? Why should it matter to the drinker if their pattern of drinking is a binge drinking pattern? First the concerns and then some more precise definitions of what qualifies as binge drinking.

There are two principle concerns with binge drinking.

1. Alcohol damages the drinker’s brain and body.

The higher the blood alcohol content (BAC) the more damage to the body. Alcohol and its primary breakdown product, Acetaldehyde, are highly toxic to the body. In small amounts, the body can cope with this foreign substance. Above a certain point, there is damage to the body. A single episode of binge drinking is likely to leave minimal long-term damage. Repeated binge drinking will leave more long-term damage.

At high enough levels many substances can cause death. For alcohol, that point is a blood alcohol content around .60 (point six zero.)

Have one drink per day and it may be healthy, or non-harmful anyway. Save those drinks up and consume them all on one night and the damage may be permanent.

Blood alcohol level is also related to repeated head trauma (Winquist et al., 2008.) Long-term high levels of alcohol damages brain cells in the prefrontal cortex which may decrease by 10% or more. Binge drinking also causes cells surrounding the lateral vertices to shrink resulting in an expansion of this fluid-filled cavity in your brain by about 42%. Alcohol and especially heavy or binge drinking cause these cells in your brain to shrink resulting in more empty, blood-filled spaces in the brain (Wolerock, 2009.)

High blood alcohol levels also result in memory loss and the creation of false memories, a process called confabulation.

2. Intoxicated people hurt themselves and others.

At high blood alcohol levels, there is an increased risk of harming self and others. Most places set strict limits on the legal level of alcohol in the bloodstream you may have and still drive. Those limits are admittedly imprecise. Two people with the same blood alcohol content may not be equally impaired, but the higher the level goes for any given individual the more impaired they become.

Increasing blood alcohol levels reduce coordination, lower inhibitions and impair judgment and memory. Intoxicated people, those who have binge drank on this occasion are 55 times more likely to attempt suicide. They are the major source of serious and fatal car accidents. They are more likely to commit crimes and harm others.

There are exceptions, sober people can do bad things, many intoxicated people do not commit crimes, but the higher the blood alcohol content the more the risks.

There is also a severe risk if the person binge drinking is or becomes pregnant. The unborn fetus does not have a developed liver. So mom-to-be needs to have her liver do the alcohol detox for this unborn child. We used to think a drink or two each day was OK. Now we are convinced that any alcohol during pregnancy is a bad idea and binge drinking is especially risky for mom and unborn child.

What is the definition of binge drinking?

Most definitions of Binge drinking are common sense approximations. Using blood alcohol content would be more precise but all that blood drawing is inconvenient.

The definition of binge drinking we use here in the United States is five or more standard drinks for a man, 4 or more for a woman on any particular drinking occasion. This is roughly the amount of alcohol that will make you legally too drunk to drive.

Standard drinks are calculated so that regardless of what you are drinking you can estimate how much alcohol is in your drink.

Despite what many people think, the alcohol in any alcoholic beverage is the same substance, ethanol. So this “I only drink Beer” I can’t have a drinking problem is nonsense. All those other statements about why one beverage is better than others, nothing to do with the alcohol.

When it comes to blood alcohol content, alcohol is alcohol.

In the U. S. a twelve-ounce beer is one standard drink. A four or five-ounce glass of wine is also a standard drink. If you are drinking whiskey, scotch, vodka, etc., then one ounce of a 90 to 100 proof beverage is a standard drink.

No cheating here

People will try to fool themselves. You know that drinking a tall can or 40-ounce beer is not one standard drink. Right? Neither is drinking 151 (a beverage with 75 ½ % alcohol.)

Alcohol content can vary from state to state or country to country. Outside the U. S., tell me the alcohol content of beers is higher. Pouring more beverage in a glass does not let you count it as one standard drink either.

The amount of alcohol it takes to make one person’s blood alcohol content reach .08 or .10 may vary. Some tell me it’s not fair that others can drink a lot and not get arrested for driving drunk and they ended up in jail after only a few. Why this happens is a subject for another blog post.

Binge drinking is not a moral thing.

Some people have argued that telling people to not binge drink is making a moral judgment. They should be able to tie one on if they choose. Choosing to binge drink, drink till you get legally drunk (or illegally drunk if you prefer that term) does not necessarily make you a bad person.

If you drive 60 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour school zone and a child runs out, your braking distance is a lot longer than if you were driving the prescribed 25.  There is more likelihood that you will harm a person’s crossing the street and if you hit them you could mess up the rest of your life also.

Similar case with binge drinking. If you binge drink this can increase the risk that you will damage yourself health-wise or harm others if you drive or are around them. We are just saying there is a warning out on this behavior.

Now if this is your typical pattern of behavior, when you drink you always binge and end up drunk this is a worry. If having developed some problems due to your excessive drinking in the past you continue to binge drink then this is a bigger problem.

If your drinking, binge or otherwise is interfering with your life, consider changing your drinking pattern. If when you try to control your drinking you find you keep losing control, it is time for some professional help.

This blog is largely devoted to the topics of mental health and substance use disorders. Especially those times when people have both issues, which is called co-occurring disorders. Alcohol is one of the top problems in this area. Stay tuned for more on alcohols effect on your body, brain, and your mental health.

Past posts on this topic you may want to look at include:

Dangers of Binge Drinking

Alcohol prevents healing

6 Myths about alcoholism

Blackouts – common or rare?

What is confabulation? Relationship to false memories and Wernicke-Korsakoff’s syndrome 

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Will I remember my Black out? Reader Question # 3

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Inebriated people.

Alcoholism.
Photo courtesy of pixabay.

Will I remember my Blackout?

Reader Question # 3

No! If you truly had a blackout you will not remember it. If no memory is stored then there is nothing to recover. Think of it like playing a brand new blank DVD. Nothing recorded, so nothing to play.

Brownouts can happen also.

Sometimes bits and pieces of information were saved. It is often referred to as a brownout. That information may come back a little, bits by bit and piece by piece.

My guess, and it is only a guess, is that the brownouts happen when there was a trauma, like rape and the brain tried to protect you or when the levels of alcohol or other drugs in the blood stream fluctuated.

Could psych meds kill?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Drugs

Drug counseling.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Taking your medication could kill you or someone else.

When we think of drug-related deaths we think first of illegal street drugs and overdose deaths but in fact, legal drugs or medication kill a lot more people than the illegal ones. Psych meds do result in deaths and serious injury.

Several recent studies have highlighted the dangers of taking prescription medication and driving. The problem of impaired drivers includes those taking prescribed psychiatric medication. A recent large study in Taiwan confirms what other studies in the United States have suggested. There is a definite link between taking some, but not all, prescription psychiatric medication and serious car accidents.

At the top of the list for possible danger is sleeping medications. Sleeping pills have been implicated in episodes where people who have no history of substance abuse still had a “black out” and drove without a memory of taking the trip. Now we have evidence that people who take sleeping pills are more likely to be involved in serious accidents. Even if you do not feel impaired you may be at risk. The person who is in no shape to drive is also the person who can’t tell if they are impaired.

Anti-anxiety medications particularly Benzodiazepines have been involved in a number of cases of serious car accidents.

Antidepressants are also present in the system of people who are involved in accidents in a disproportionate number of car crashes. Why antidepressants should be involved is still unclear.

Surprisingly the recent studies have not shown any significant connection between antipsychotics and accidents.

It is not those diagnosed with paranoid-schizophrenia but the anxious-insomniacs who are crashing into us.

My guess is that the increased use of the newer atypical antipsychotic medications has resulted in people with psychosis leading better, safer lives.

Another overlooked factor in accident prevention has been the association of marijuana smoking and serious car accidents. Most people know about the connection between alcohol and accidents but weed?

Studies have shown that the majority of drivers involved in serious accidents are positive for marijuana (THC) at the time of their accident. Either smoking marijuana is increasing your risk of an accident, or most people these days are smoking weed.

Regardless of your feelings about marijuana, drug legalization or decriminalization there appears to be a connection between being high on weed and getting in an accident. So if you smoke I would prefer it if you stayed off the road, especially while I am out there.

So now we know more about this subject of medications, drugs, and driving.

It is not just illegal drugs or alcohol that can impair your driving ability, prescribed drugs including some psychiatric ones also can increase the risk of you hurting yourself or others while driving.

The combination of prescribed medication, street drugs and or alcohol, is just asking to be in a serious accident.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Blackouts – common or rare?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Drinking

Binge drinking.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Are blackouts common?

Morning Question #15.

Blackouts are nothing like passing out or being unconscious. Blackouts involve the ability to walk, talk and function while intoxicating but to form no memories. The next day the drinker may not know what happened.

Blackouts are relatively common, with up to half of all college students reporting having had an episode of memory loss when drinking. These episodes are highly associated with Binge Drinking. Blackouts range from “brownouts” sometimes called fragmentary blackouts where there are portions of memory mixed with missing facts to full-on blackouts (sometimes called block blackouts) of having lived hours or sometimes days with no memory of where you were or what happened.

Having a blackout especially early in your drinking career indicates a huge risk of developing alcoholism.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Do people really forget what happened when drinking? – Blackouts

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Liquor

Alcoholic beverages.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Memory, Blackouts, Alcohol, and Drugs.

Alcohol and other drugs can impair memory in a number of ways. Alcoholics frequently say they can’t remember what happened while drinking. People who have never had a blackout question if the drinker really can’t remember, or do they just not want to take responsibility for their actions. Both are possible. Alcohol is not the only reason someone might do something and then have no memory of the occurrence. Consider the following examples.

Let’s say that the people in one of the classes I taught all became very close and the group decides they would like to have a celebration after the last session. We decide on a pizza party. We get out the phone book and look up the number. We are all old school, imagine the days before cell phone Apps. I read off the number and one of the students runs downstairs to make the call. In this building, there is almost no cell phone reception.

When they return I ask “Did you order soda?” They tell me they didn’t.  Well, we need something to drink with the pizza so go call and add some soda to the order. The students reply?

What was the number?

Why can’t they remember that number?

Now I just gave them the number why can’t they remember it?

Many things in life are held in short-term memory only as long as needed. Once the need for the information is gone the memory is discarded. You may remember what you ate for breakfast today but not many people could report what they had for breakfast all of the last 365 days. Even if they had the same thing every day they would not be able to tell me which day was better or worse.

Alcohol interrupts the transfer of information from current working memory to long-term memory. Since the memory could not be saved there is no memory remaining. Ever turn off a computer or close a file and then realize you hadn’t saved the work? Computers have programs to ask you if you want to save that, otherwise, we would lose a lot of work.

Cell phone designers had to include this factor in the design. They know that phone owners will want to call people back and that the human brain will not remember the number even if you just dialed it a minute ago. The phone holds the memory for you.

Blackouts are most likely to occur when the blood alcohol level rises rapidly. A few sips an hour, no blackout. Knock down the whole fifth in a couple of minutes and the rest of the night may be gone.

Blackouts are not the only reason alcohol and other drugs may alter memories.

State-dependent learning.

Consider this scenario. Someone goes to a cocktail party. During the night they talk with a lot of people, exchange some business cards and generally have a good productive time networking. Only they also drink too much.

Next morning they find the business cards in their pocket, only they can’t remember who these people were or what they talked about. They weren’t drunk enough to have a blackout but they did talk to a lot of people. Why can’t they remember these people?

Later in the day, they go to lunch, say they have drinks with lunch, nothing huge, just one or two drinks. They go for something in their pocket and there are those pesky cards. And suddenly they remember who these people were and what they talked about.

This is called state dependent learning.

Information is filed away in the brain but it is as if there are file cabinet drawers for memories that are only needed in certain situations. One file drawer is for things to remember while intoxicated. These memories are harder or impossible to find unless drunk.

Students who pull all-nighters to study for finals and use lots of chemicals to stay awake may have the same result. The brain puts those memories in a drawer labeled only needed when high on stimulants. Next day in class they forget everything they studied. The lack of sleep didn’t help either. Two weeks later over some espresso, they remember something they needed for the final.

This is also why some things just can’t be learned in a classroom. Swimming and diving are examples of this. All the classroom time in the world and suddenly when you are in the water everything changes. State-dependent learning can involve things other than alcohol or drugs. Internal states, like hunger and thirst and external states like places and activates can affect your ability to remember things.

In addition to blackouts and state-dependent learning, there are several other ways in which alcohol and drugs may be affecting memory.

Poor physical and mental health impairs memory.

When you are depressed or overtired, things may not stick in your memory. Over time there can be physical and chemical changes in the brain. Alcoholic’s brains shrink. Some drugs kill or damage nerve cells. Aging and normal memory loss may also be accelerated by substance abuse.

Memory also has a situational component. I use multiple computers at multiple locations. They each have different passwords. When at one office I will remember the password for that office and automatically enter it. Most of these passwords have to be changed every month. Last month I thought why not use the same password I just entered at the other office this morning? I could not remember it. The next day back at the first office I entered that new password without a thought and then realized, I remember passwords by the surroundings.

Doorway effect on memory.

The “doorway effect” also is likely to be more pronounced when you abuse substances. Doorway effect is the phenomenon of moving through a doorway, going from my home office to the kitchen for some water, and when I get to the kitchen I can’t remember why I am there. This confusion and the available food may explain that mysterious weight gain. This is a normal occurrence for people who do not do drugs but my experience working in substance abuse programs suggests that substance abusers are more likely to find their memories erased by moving from one place to another.

There are some thoughts on blackouts, state-dependent learning, situational memory and the doorway effect coupled with the effects of drugs and alcohol on memories.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.