Binge Drinking: Not Just a College Activity Anymore

Submitterd by: Dr Rebecca Wise

As college classes begin the thought of what to do over the weekend may cross students’ minds while sitting in class. These plans may involve going to a bar, a house party, or tailgating, but no matter what the setting, drinking is often involved. While some drinking is okay, when taken to excess it can be dangerous and possibly deadly. However, weekend partying is not just limited to college seniors. Are you one of the senior people making up the most surprising statistic about drinking to excess?

Excessive drinking in short periods of time is known as binge drinking
Excessive drinking in short periods of time is known as binge drinking

Excessive drinking in short periods of time is known as binge drinking – defined by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as “a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 gm/dL.” Each person is different, but the NIAAA says this usually happens when “men consume 5 or more drinks, and when women consume 4 or more drinks, in about 2 hours.” A national survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed what most of us already assumed – binge drinking is more common among college age adults (18 to 34 years). But what I found most surprising was that this survey also found people age 65 years or older actually binge drink more often than younger adults, on average 5 to 6 times in a month. This same survey found binge drinking is more common in households with incomes over $75,000, which is not exactly the salary of a college student.

Binge drinking has many problems associated with it – not only to the folks who are drinking, but also people around them. These problems can range from falls, car crashes, alcohol poisoning, STDs, heart problems, brain damage, and liver damage just to name a few. While the body is filled with more interesting organs such as the brain or heart, it is the unsung work of the liver that allows us to drink alcohol without much harm if consumed in moderation. When we drink alcohol, our bodies recognize the alcohol as a poison that we need to get out of our systems. In order for it to be excreted it must first go through the liver where the alcohol is broken down and one of the byproducts of this process is called acetaldehyde which is a toxin that must be broken down further by the liver. The problem is that your liver can only process so much alcohol each hour. When we binge drink we have excessive alcohol flowing through our bodies waiting to be digested by the liver and this leads to the toxic effects. When the liver is called on to detoxify alcohol over and over again, the liver itself becomes damaged resulting in moderate harm like “fatty liver” to the more serious cirrhosis of the liver.

But, remember who does the most binge drinking…those folks who are 65 years and older. So, what makes matters worse is that these folks also take the most medications. The combination will lead to overworking the liver, potentially resulting in organ damage.

So, ideally it is best not to drink while taking medication, but to completely eliminate drinking any alcohol is unrealistic. Therefore, if you take any mediation, make sure you only drink in moderation – but what exactly does that mean? According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans “moderation” is 1 drink a day for women and 2 drinks a day for men. Binge drinkers take in 2.5 to 4 times that amount of alcohol in a two hour period or less.

So as the weekend approaches, whether you are a senior in college, or a senior in life, be sure you are being responsible with alcohol and only consume moderate amounts. If you are also taking medications, let your doctors and pharmacist know how often you drink alcohol so they can be sure you get the best care. Don’t “fib” about the quantity or regularity either. Honesty will allow your health care providers to look for any interactions between alcohol and the medications you take to be sure you are staying healthy.

With that, CHEERS to your weekend!

Written by Mitchel Core, PharmD Candidate, LECOM Class of 2015, and student of Dr. Rebecca Miller Wise

For further reading:

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Dr. Rebecca Wise

Wise Words…. is a general medical information column from Dr Rebecca Wise. Dr. Wise has a master’s degree in education as well as her doctorate in pharmacy. She is an assistant professor and ambulatory care specialist at a Medication Therapy Management (MTM) clinic in Erie, PA.

Soon to be released is Dr Becky’s new website which will address women’s issues, watch for it:

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