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The facts about binge drinking

What is binge drinking?

How is binge drinking harmful?

What is a standard drink?

How can I reduce the risk of harm from alcohol?

Some tips for controlling your drinking

Further information


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What is binge drinking?

Drinking alcohol is the most common type of drug use in Australia. Alcohol is so widely used that many people don’t think of it as a drug and may not realise that it can be harmful. As a result, they may drink too heavily at times, or binge drink.

The term 'binge drinking' can have different meanings, but generally it refers to drinking heavily over a short period of time with the intention of becoming intoxicated, resulting in immediate and severe intoxication.1

How is binge drinking harmful?

Binge drinking can be harmful in a number of ways. Short-term harms can be those that are immediately harmful to your health and may include: 

  • Hangovers
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Shakiness
  • Vomiting
  • Memory loss


There is also the risk that a person could overdose on alcohol (sometimes called alcohol poisoning), which can cause death.2,3

Other problems can be caused by the way alcohol makes you behave. These include:

  • Falls
  • Assaults
  • Car accidents
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • Shame and embarrassment
  • Loss of valuable items, such as a damaged car or lost phone
  • Reckless spending while intoxicated
  • Loss of income through time off work2,3


Long-term harms can include becoming physically or psychologically dependent upon alcohol, and developing liver or brain damage. Long-term alcohol use can also cause a number of cancers including cancer of the mouth, throat, breast and bowel.3,4 It is also linked to sexual dysfunction.4

How can I reduce the risk of harm from alcohol?

While there is no safe level of drinking, the Australian guidelines for low-risk drinking recommend:

  • For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.

  • For healthy men and women, drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.

  • For children and young people under 18 years of age, not drinking is the safest option.

  • Parents and carers are advised that children under the age of 15 are at greatest risk of harm from drinking and it is especially important that they do not drink alcohol.

  • For women who are pregnant, are planning a pregnancy or are breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option.5


What is a standard drink?

Knowing how much alcohol is in drinks can help people to avoid binge drinking. Different types of alcoholic drinks contain different amounts of alcohol, and a single ‘drink’ is often much more than a standard drink. A standard drink is exactly 10 grams of pure alcohol.

Each of these drinks equals approximately one standard drink:

  • a little less than a 285 ml pot of full-strength beer (4.8% alc./vol)
  • 2/3 of a 375 ml stubbie/can of full-strength beer (4.8% alc./vol)
  • a 375 ml stubbie/can of mid-strength beer (3.5% alc./vol)
  • 1¼ 375 ml stubbies/cans of low-strength beer (2.7% alc./vol)
  • 100 ml of wine or sparkling wine (12.0% alc./vol)
  • a 30 ml 'shot' or 'nip' of spirits (40.0% alc./vol)
  • 2/3 of a 275 ml bottle/can of ready-to-drink spirits/wine (7.0% alc./vol)
  • 2/3 of a 375 ml bottle/can of alcoholic cider (5.0% alc./vol).5


Keep in mind that not all drinks contain the same concentration of alcohol, and many venues do not serve alcohol in standard drink sizes. Beware of bigger glasses, bottles or cans that hold more than one standard drink. If you are not sure, read the label.5

Some tips for controlling your drinking

Be aware of how alcohol affects you as an individual.

If you know you will be drinking alcohol, make sure you plan ahead.

Staying safe

If you are partying with a group of friends, agree that one of the group will not drink and will be responsible for driving and looking out for the group generally. Of course, each person is ultimately responsible for his or her own behaviour. Make sure you can call a member of your family or a friend if you need help.

Reducing your drinking

  • Set limits for yourself and stick to them. Don’t let other people pressure you into drinking more than you want.
  • Quench your thirst first. Have a non-alcoholic drink first if you are thirsty.
  • Drink slowly. Take sips, not gulps.
  • Drink from a small glass. Some wine glasses can hold several standard drinks.
  • Be aware of exactly what you are drinking. Remember that 'alcopops' (sweet flavoured ready-to-drink or pre-mixed spirits/wine) can be quite strong, even though they don’t taste like strong alcohol.
  • Try a low-alcohol/non-alcoholic alternative.
  • Eat before and while drinking, but avoid salty snacks, which will make you thirsty.
  • Avoid getting into 'rounds' or 'shouts'. They can make you drink faster and drink more, so that you can keep up with your friends.
  • Avoid 'top-ups'. Drink one drink at a time to keep track of how much you are drinking.
  • Stay busy. Don’t just sit and drink. Dancing or playing music or games can take the focus away from drinking.6

 

Further information

Statistics

Reducing the risks

Resources

 

References

1. Anderson, P. (2008). Binge drinking and Europe.

2. Brands, B., Sproule, B., & Marshman, J. (Eds.). (1998). Drugs & drug abuse (3rd ed.). Ontario: Addiction Research Foundation.

3. Roche, A. M., Bywood, P., Freeman T., Pidd, K., Borlagdan, J., Trifonoff, A. (2009). The social context of alcohol use in Australia. Adelaide: National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction.

4. Cancer Research UK. (2015). How alcohol causes cancer.

5. National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol.

6. Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. (2008). Celebrate safely. Look after your mates.

 

Reviewed: 21 April 2015

 

Information you heard is intended as a general guide only. This audio is copyrighted by the Australian Drug Foundation. Visit www.DrugInfo.ADF.org.au for more