Binge Drinking: Here's What it Does to Your Body Long Term   

Binge Drinking: Here's What it Does to Your Body Long Term

Numerous empty beer bottles on a coffee table. Binge drinking effects.
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Brett Sealove, M.D., FACC, RPVI
James Sherer, M.D.

While not formally recommended, an occasional margarita, craft beer or glass of wine isn’t inherently considered problematic. Binge drinking, on the other hand, poses a number of risks to our health, both short- and long-term. 

According to 2021 data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 21.5 percent of people in the U.S. ages 12 and older reported binge drinking during the past month.

A common assumption is that only young people are at risk, but that’s not true. “It’s occurring in patients over 65 at an astronomical rate, with one in six reporting binge drinking,” says Brett A. Sealove, M.D., chief of Cardiology, Jersey Shore University Medical Center

Here’s what you should know about binge drinking and the problems it poses to our long-term health.

What’s Considered Binge Drinking?

For men: Five or more drinks on one occasion

For women: Four or more drinks on one occasion

A standard drink is:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits

Short-term Risks of Binge Drinking

Alcohol poisoning: Alcohol poisoning can occur from large amounts of alcohol ingestion—binge drinking—when key areas of the brain fail to control breathing, pulse and body temperature, all very dangerous, says psychiatrist James Sherer, M.D.

Injuries: Binge drinking can cause motor vehicle accidents, falls, drownings and burns.

Dangers for pregnant women: Binge drinking can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Long-term Risks of Binge Drinking

Changes to the brain: “Any addiction can put your pleasure-reward pathway into hyperdrive,” Dr. Sherer says.“The areas of the brain that control impulsive behavior can atrophy or shrink, so areas that tell you to keep drinking as a reward get stronger.”

High blood pressure and heart disease: Excessive alcohol or binge drinking increases risk of high blood pressure, arrhythmias or irregular heartbeats, heart attack, heart failure, stroke and death. “The effects of alcohol on the cardiovascular system have been the subject of debate for years,” Dr. Sealove says. “Not long ago, studies pointed to benefits of low amounts of alcohol on, for example, cholesterol, or in the case of red wine, the antioxidant resveratrol. But an April 2023 review of more than 100 studies finds that even moderate consumption may cause health problems.”

Alcohol use disorder (AUD): Binge drinking puts you at risk for developing AUD, which is trouble stopping or controlling alcohol use. Patients might require ongoing therapy, medication or inpatient detoxification and rehabilitation to recover from the illness, Dr. Sherer says. When a person with AUD suddenly stops drinking on their own, they may experience seizures, confusion, shaking and anxiety, among other symptoms, which could be fatal. 

Certain types of cancer: Over time, excessive drinking can be linked to the development of certain types of cancers, including breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon and rectum, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Liver disease and digestive issues: According to the National Institutes of Health, in large amounts and over time, alcohol can overwhelm the gastrointestinal tract and liver, leading to damage within the GI tract and in other organs. 

Mental health disorders: Over time, binge drinking can significantly impact mental health. Alcohol disrupts the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, which can lead to mood swings, irritability and emotional instability. It can also worsen pre-existing mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. People experiencing depression or anxiety may turn to alcohol to ease their symptoms, but binge drinking over time can worsen these symptoms.

Signs to Seek Help for Your Drinking

If you are struggling with binge drinking, seek help from a health care professional. Here are some signs that it's time to see a doctor for binge drinking:

  • You are unable to control your drinking and continue to drink despite negative consequences.
  • You experience withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, insomnia or seizures when trying to quit drinking.
  • You have developed physical health problems such as liver damage, high blood pressure or heart disease due to binge drinking.
  • You are experiencing mental health issues due to binge drinking, such as anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts.
  • You have tried to quit on your own and have been unsuccessful.

“It’s a big ask to change the way people live day to day,” says Dr. Sherer. “It takes years to put habits like excessive drinking in place. And it can take years to permanently stop them, but it’s absolutely worth the effort and will improve both your mental and physical health.”

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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