When picturing St. Patrick’s Day festivities, it’s likely you’ll think of alcohol, and perhaps lots of it. This is for good reason, as this holiday commemorating the patron saint of Ireland is regarded as one of the biggest drinking days of the year. While adult consumption of alcohol can be done safely and responsibly, reasonable drinking guidelines often are overlooked in favor of excessive drinking, known as binge drinking.
But what is binge drinking? Generally speaking, this means drinking five or more drinks within a two-hour period for men, or four or more drinks for women. 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 harm yourself or potentially others.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that one in six Americans engages in binge drinking an average of four times a month. The age group most prone to binge drinking are those ages 18 to 24 at 26.1 percent. Middle-age people report a rate just short of 16 percent. Statistics show binge drinking being particularly high on St. Patrick’s Day. More than two-thirds of drivers involved in fatal accidents on this day alone have a blood alcohol content above the legal limit. Crashes occur at a rate of once every 46 minutes.
The risks of binge drinking are hard to overstate. The impairment effects of alcohol can increase your risk for injuries from accidents, and have been linked to an increased rate of violence, including sexual assault. Binge drinking also is associated with cognitive problems including memory and learning impairment, which may be permanent. Binge drinkers also face elevated cancer risks, in addition to a whole host of other chronic diseases, including liver and heart disease.
How do we avoid binge drinking? For some, abstinence may be the best choice. This is especially true for those who have had alcohol dependence, those who are underage, people taking certain medications, and those with medical conditions that may become exacerbated with alcohol use.
Others may wish to follow low-risk drinking guidelines. Low-risk alcohol consumption generally is considered to consist of 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 1 ounce for most forms of liquor. Above all, be aware of how your drinking may be affecting you. Low-risk is not the same as no risk, so taking precautions such as safe transportation while drinking is always a good idea.
• Jeffrey Meyers is a certified prevention specialist with the Area Substance Abuse Council.