Binge drinking: know what you’re getting into
blog by Ben Kirst • November 17, 2012 @ 12:04pm
This isn’t going to be a story that looks for a moral in the sad story of David Gerken, Jr., the young man found dead outside of Thursday night’s Buffalo Bills game in Orchard Park. Speculation has run rampant that Gerken was drinking heavily before separating from his friends and family at halftime after getting tossed from Ralph Wilson Stadium by building security. The effects of hard drinking would certainly seem to explain, from the outside looking in, why an otherwise healthy and rational young man ended up drowning in a creek in the woods 100 miles from his Palmyra home.
Look—a lot of you drink. A lot of you drink a lot. And many of you—whether it’s at a Bills game, or on a Friday night, or at your buddy’s wedding or a concert at Darien Lake or whatever—will drink to the point of blackout, vomiting, shouting rude things at strangers, fighting or, maybe most commonly, running your big drunk mouth until you’ve thoroughly embarrassed yourself in a way that you won’t fully appreciate until you’ve sobered up and had a couple key conversations with your now slightly-confused friends. I’m not saying that’s good or bad (unless you try to drive a car, in which case it really is bad). I’m just saying it happens.
According to The New York Times, “New research shows that four times a month, one in six Americans goes on a drinking binge, knocking back an average of eight alcoholic beverages within a few hours.”
Here are some facts you should understand so the next time you decide to dump 15 Coors Lights and a series of brown-liquor shots into your stomach in a public setting you have an idea of what you are actually doing to yourself.
Feeling sick to your stomach? It’s because you are inducing diabetes. British newspaper The Independent ran a great article on the effects of binge drinking in 2005 and reported that “...the chemicals in alcohol can irritate the lining of the stomach, prompting the body to expel them by vomiting. Most alcoholic drinks are high in sugar, calories and carbohydrates, so that you may not want to eat because you feel full, even though your body is not getting any nutrients. The sugar also triggers the production of insulin, which in turn reduces blood sugar levels. This explains those hungover feelings of trembling and hunger the next morning.”
I slept with WHO? Beer goggles are real, my friends, and the bad news for the ladies is that the effect is more pronounced in women. Again, The Independent reported that “...even a little alcohol reduces the ability to assess facial symmetry, which plays a key role in attractiveness and human mate selection…Results showed alcohol drinkers made significant errors in distinguishing between symmetrical and asymmetrical faces. The study also found that women drinkers made more errors than men.” Now that may seem like high-five material for all the bros out there—especially the ugly ones—but it’s really no joke: New York Presbyterian Hospital notes that “... women who binge drink are more likely to be date-raped, engage in unprotected sex, or become a victim of violence. In fact, alcohol is involved in 73 percent of all rapes and 70 percent of all domestic violence.” Yeah, not so funny.
Great times last night! But I don’t remember any of it. The good news: you’re not actually “killing brain cells” when you get good and hammered. The bad news: all that alcohol is messing with your brain function to the point that you are unable to create memories. A University of Washington study found that “...large amounts of alcohol affect the hippocampus and other areas of the brain involved in cognitive functions, such as memory formation. Plagued by excessive alcohol, key receptors in the brain are blocked and later others are activated, producing steroids that undermine long-term potentiation (LTP), a process that strengthens the connections between neurons and is essential to learning and memory.” Binge drinking, in other words, can kind of temporarily break your brain.
And it’s not just memory—a University of Cincinnati study found that “...binge drinking was linked to cortical-thinning of the pre-frontal cortex. The researchers…found that the greater the number of drinks consumed, the greater the cortical thinning. This finding is important because that is the part of the brain that is associated with paying attention, planning, making decision, processing emotions and controlling impulses which lead to irrational behavior.” Can’t see how those things would ever be important later in life.
At least I’m not an alcoholic, right? ...Right? Well, yes. Just because you binge drink does not mean you are actually addicted to alcohol. Quick fact: Alcohol consumption in humans is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Just wanted to throw that out there.
Anyhow, binge drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as “...a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings BAC to 0.08 gram percent or above. For the typical adult, this pattern corresponds to consuming five or more drinks (male), or four or more drinks (female), in about two hours.” By definition, that’s not an addiction to booze—that’s getting wasted, intentionally and purposefully. Alcoholism is a disease that makes an individual unable to limit their alcohol consumption. Alcohol abusers drink even though it’s messing up the rest of their lives. Can one lead to the other? Oh, yes. But one is not necessarily the other, if that makes sense.
You are an individual. You make your own choices. You live in a place where drinking heavily is not only socially acceptable but is often encouraged. This is not elementary school—no one is taking away the cookies if you have too many. You can eat those cookies until you’re sick or fat or dead.
Please, be smart. Be safe.
Photo by markhillary.