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How Binge Drinking Leads To Alcohol Addiction

June 1st, 2015

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines binge drinking as consuming as little as five drinks in two hours if you are a man, and as little as four drinks in two hours if you are a woman. We tend to think of binge drinking as involving far more alcohol consumption than this, and indeed it often does—think an entire night’s worth of drinks at a weekend college party. Yet even at the lower levels described by the NIH, binge drinking can have potentially dangerous short-term consequences, including increased risk of physical injury, blackouts, and even death by alcohol poisoning.

These short-term effects are reason enough to avoid binge drinking. However, a growing amount of evidence suggests that binge drinking may also have harmful consequences in the long term. These include liver damage, colon cancer, and perhaps most troubling of all, the risk of alcohol addiction later in life.

Defining Alcohol Addiction

In thinking about the links between binge drinking and alcohol addiction, it’s helpful to understand exactly how researchers and addiction specialists define alcohol addiction in the first place. An individual suffers from alcohol addiction when she or he has become physically and psychologically dependent on the substance, experiencing very real (and scary) withdrawal symptoms when the substance is taken away.

Defined in this way, not everyone who binge drinks goes on to develop a full-blown alcohol addiction. Some can go an entire four years of college while binge drinking regularly, and never develop symptoms of withdrawal. Yet, according to the data, other individuals are not so lucky.

What the Data Tell Us

According to recent findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only around 10.5% of all binge drinkers actually qualify as alcohol addicted or dependent. While this may seem like a relatively small percentage, a closer look at the data reveals a disturbing trend. CDC researchers split this data set into two groups, one for participants who reported binge drinking only one to two times a month before the survey, and another for those who reported binge drinking ten or more times in that same period. In the second group, the rate of alcohol dependence jumped significantly, from 4.3% to 29.8%. Other studies have given similar results, showing for instance that college students who binge drink at least three times every two weeks are 19 times more likely to develop alcohol addiction than those who drink less frequently.

Signs Of Future Dependence

It should come as no surprise, then, that the number-one way in which binge drinking leads to alcohol addiction is when it occurs so frequently as to take on a feeling of normalcy for the soon-to-be addicted individual. This is especially true for younger drinkers, for whom the seeds of addiction may be planted during college. While many students are able to phase out of the partying lifestyle as they get older, other students—especially those who are already genetically predisposed to addiction—may have difficulty doing so. For them, throwing up and passing out at the college party gives way to a few too many drinks while out with co-workers or friends, or needing a six-pack or entire bottle of wine to unwind at the end of a workday. These are all ways in which drinking routines established in young adulthood transform into potentially destructive habits later in life, and ultimately lead to physical dependence.

Catch Addiction Early

If you or a loved one binge drinks frequently and shows signs of a future addiction, contact us at for information about treatment options.If you or a loved one binge drinks frequently and shows signs of a future addiction, contact us at for information about treatment options. Alcohol dependence may feel unbeatable even at this early stage, but catching the problem early is one of the best keys to recovery.

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