Guest Columnist

Celebrate safely, avoid binge drinking

St. Patrick's Day means elevated drinking, lots of risk

FILE PHOTO: Goose Island beer taps are seen amongst other craft beers at a bar in New York January 21, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Goose Island beer taps are seen amongst other craft beers at a bar in New York January 21, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

For anyone that has been around festivities on St. Patrick’s Day, it will likely come as no surprise that the holiday founded in remembrance of Ireland’s patron Saint is considered by some estimates to be the fourth biggest drinking day of the year.

While adult consumption of alcohol can be done safely and responsibly, reasonable drinking guidelines are often discarded in favor of excessive drinking, known as binge drinking.

Just what exactly is binge drinking? The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism gives us a specific definition as “a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration to .08 grams percent or above.” Generally speaking, this means drinking five or more drinks within a two hour period for men, or four or more drinks for women.

Contrary to some beliefs, binge drinking does not necessarily mean a person is alcohol dependent, or would have a diagnosable substance use disorder, but rather indicates an irresponsible drinking pattern that could endanger anyone.

Binge drinking may be more common than you think. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that 1 in 6 Americans engages in binge drinking four times a month. Demographically, the age group most prone to binge drinking are those aged 18-24 at 26.1 percent, though even middle aged people report a rate just short of 16 percent.

Statistics show binge drinking being particularly high on St. Patrick’s Day, with more than a third of drivers involved in fatal accidents on this day having a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit. These crashes occur once every 46 minutes during the holiday.

Binge drinking is nothing to shrug off; it can have very serious risks. The impairment effects of alcohol on the body in high amounts can increase risk for injuries due to accidents, including car crashes. The behavioral influence of alcohol can also increase incidents of violence, including sexual assault.

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Physically, binge drinking is associated with cognitive problems including memory and learning impairment long-term. Cancer risks can increase over time, and regular binge drinkers put themselves at risk for a whole host of other chronic diseases including liver and heart disease. In the short-term, heavy binge drinking also risks alcohol poisoning and bouts of unconsciousness.

How do we avoid binge drinking? For some, abstinence may be the best choice. This is especially true for those that have had alcohol dependence, are underage, or with certain medical conditions or medication with which alcohol interferes.

Others may wish to pursue low-risk drinking, which is generally considered to be no more than three drinks on any given day, totaling no more than 14 drinks in a week. A “drink” would be 12 ounces of beer with 5 percent alcohol content, or one ounce for most forms of liquor. Above all, be aware of how your drinking may be affecting, you. Low risk is not no risk, so taking precautions like safe transportation can make a big difference.

• Jeffrey Meyers is a certified prevention specialist at the Area Substance Abuse Council in Cedar Rapids. Comments: jmeyers@asac.us

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