Bordieri on the Psychology of Binge Drinking

Apr 23, 2019

Many people enjoy an alcoholic drink or two at a social gathering, event, or other celebratory experience, but how many drinks does it take to cross over into 'binge-drinking?' Murray State professor of psychology, Michael Bordieri, Ph.D., visits Sounds Good to discuss how to define and limit binge drinking.

According to the CDC, binge drinking is "the most common, costly, and deadly pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States." The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as "a pattern of drinking that brings a person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above." For men, this typically occurs after consuming 5 or more drinks in 2 hours. For women, this occurs at 4 or more drinks in 2 hours. One in six US adults binge drinks about four times a month, particularly during holiday seasons, consuming about seven drinks per binge. The result is 17 billion total binge drinks consumed annually, or 467 binge drinks per binge drinker. 

"We all have personal understandings of what alcohol use is, what's safe or not, but what's important to note is that according to the best research evidence, there's really no such thing as safe drinking," Bordieri explains. To remain at a relatively low risk for the negative consequences of alcohol use, Bordieri suggests that men consume no more than 4 drinks in one day and no more than 14 a week. For women, Bordieri suggests no more than 3 drinks a day and no more than 7 a week. These gender differences are largely related to metabolism, size, etc. 

It's also important to know what, exactly, counts as a drink. Alcohol comes in millions of varieties and percentages. It's easy to overpour while drinking at home or with friends at a party. It's also easy to accidentally drink more than intended at a bar where multiple-liquor cocktails are served. Finally, some beers can have alcohol percentages as high as 12%, making it a far stronger drink than some would assume. You can view the standards for one alcoholic drink of beer, wine, or spirits on the National Insitute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism's website. 

Even those who save their binge drinking for major holidays around the year are at risk. "Drinking more frequently is more risky," Bordieri says, "but what we find is individuals who don't drink often, but when they do drink, it's at these large levels, they're still at risk [like a habitual binge drinker]." Bordieri also explains that while alcohol does have positive effects such as reduced inhibitions, mild euphoria, and mild social facilitation, these positive effects only occur in small amounts of consumption. It is a thin line between these "positive" consequences and the more dangerous negative consequences of motor impairment, extreme mood swings, organ damage, and even death that can occur with binge drinking.

To avoid potentially entering dangerous territory, Bordieri suggests "setting out a clear limit for yourselves for how much you're going to enjoy in a setting. Enjoy food while you're drinking - having meals can slow down the metabolism of alcohol and can also be delicious. Make sure that if it's a social setting, it's about the conversation, if it's an event, it's about the event and the experience. These things slow down drinking in a natural way. That way, alcohol can be part of a broader celebration or experience but not the primary focus, and that can often help folks stay in those low risk levels."