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Binge drinkingBinge-drinking is something we hear a fair bit about in Ireland, but not something we necessarily think we do ourselves.

Drinking is so socially acceptable, whether it’s after work, at a party or a match, it can be hard to recognise when it’s too much.

What is binge-drinking?

Binge-drinking means drinking heavily over a short period of time, or drinking continuously over a number of days or weeks. It’s what we commonly refer to as ‘getting locked’ or ‘hammered’.

Many of us are familiar with binge-drinking. You could have relatively balanced drinking habits, but take it to an extreme level at the weekends or on nights out.

You might not know your own limits too well, and end up drinking too much over a short period of time without meaning to.

Pressure from others

You also might be more likely to binge drink if you’re feeling under pressure from your friends. If you feel anxious or socially awkward, maybe at a party, you might binge drink to try and get over those feelings.

It’s good to be aware of how much you drink and be honest with yourself. It can be more harmful than you might think.

Is binge drinking harmful?

Binge-drinking can be immediately and directly harmful to your health. It slows your reactions, impairs your judgement and can make you vomit or pass out.

You’re more likely to get injured, or to put yourself or someone else at risk of getting hurt.

As well as having dangerous short-term effects, binge drinking can also have long-term effects on your health and well-being.

Possible effects of binge-drinking

Short-term effects include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • shakiness
  • memory loss
  • injury
  • booze blues (feeling depressed the next day).

Long-term effects:

  • continuous heavy drinking over a long period of time can lead to a person becoming physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol
  • significant damage to the brain and liver
  • risk of cancer of the mouth, throat or oesophagus
  • possible increased risk of neurological disorders, heart problems, and sexual problems (especially male impotency)
  • risk of emotional problems developing, such as depression, problems at school, work and problems within relationships.

Other effects include:

  • binge-drinking can lead to doing things you wouldn’t normally do, such as having unprotected  sex or unwanted sex. This in turn can lead to unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections
  • feeling bad about yourself, regretting or not remembering your actions
  • vulnerability while drunk
  • fighting with or losing friends or loved ones as a result of how you act
  • spending too much money.

What’s a standard drink?

A standard drink has 10 grams of pure alcohol. Knowing how many standard drinks you’re having helps you to manage your drinking.

Different types of alcoholic drinks contain different amounts of pure alcohol. The following are examples of standard drinks:

  • 285ml glass of beer
  • 100ml glass of table wine (a small glass – this is not the size usually served in pubs)
  • 30ml of spirits (one shot).

The general guidelines are that guys shouldn’t regularly drink more than three to four units of alcohol per day. Women shouldn’t regularly drink more than two to three units of alcohol per day.

Alcohol is not always served as standard drinks. For more information about standard drinks look at Ask About Alcohol for facts, tips and other information.

How much can you drink?

We all respond to alcohol differently, so it’s important you know your own limits.

How alcohol affects you may be influenced by a number of factors, such as how much you drink, how quickly you drink, whether you consume the alcohol with other drugs, whether you’re male or female, your mood, your body type and whether or not you’ve eaten properly beforehand.

The first time

If you haven’t drunk alcohol before, it can be difficult to know your limits. The first time you drink, it’s a good idea to be somewhere you know you’re safe.

If someone is looking out for you they can help you if the alcohol affects you strongly or in an unexpected way.

This might be at home, or at a friend’s place.

MEAS, on organisation that promotes sensible drinking, recommends the following drink limitations:

Recommended limits for guys:

Up to 17 standard drinks per week is considered a low health-risk for most men. That works out as no more than four standard drinks a day on average, with an occasional maximum of six. (Remember that a pint counts as more than one drink here.)

There should always be at least two days a week when you don’t drink.

Recommended limits for girls:

Up to 11 standard drinks a week is considered a low health-risk for most women. This would be no more than two standard drinks a day on average, with an occasional maximum of four standard drinks.

Again, you need to make sure there’s at least two days that are alcohol-free.

This is a guide, not a target!

Spread out your units

How you spread out your drinking is also really important. It might be OK to have 10 drinks in a week, but there’s a big difference between having two a day and all 10 on the weekend, or over a night.

If women consistently drink more than two standard drinks or if men drink more than three standard drinks a day, the health risks start to accumulate. Spreading out your alcohol intake is really important.

Some more tips and advice around alcohol can be found on Ask About Alcohol.

Controlling your drinking

There are a number of things you can do to keep your drinking under control, including the following:

  • set limits for yourself and stick to them
  • start with a non-alcoholic drink (especially if you’re actually thirsty- get a glass of water into you first)
  • try having a ‘spacer’ – alternating non-alcoholic drinks with alcoholic drinks, especially if you’re feeling the effects
  • drink slowly – take sips not gulps
  • try a low-alcohol alternative to a pre-mixed drink
  • eat before or while you are drinking, but avoid salty snacks, they make you thirsty
  • avoid rounds
  • finish one drink before you start another
  • avoid knocking drinks back and playing drinking games
  • stay busy – walk, dance, don’t just sit and drink
  • be assertive – don’t be pressured into drinking more than you want to.

Managing your drinking

If you’re worried about how much you’re drinking, what you’re like when you drink or if you can’t seem to stop, talk to someone about it. Loads of people are in a similar situation, so there’s a lot of advice out there and nothing to feel ashamed of.

Talk to a friend, a family member, doctor or a counsellor. Your GP is often a good place to start, or if you’re in college, the student’s union welfare officer will be able to help.

If you’re trying to cut down or quit, don’t be too hard on yourself. If you don’t meet your target at the beginning, keep trying.

Check getting help to find out more about the help available for you.

This article was last reviewed on 21 August 2018

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