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Food/Nutrition Columnist Author: Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN, Food & Nutrition Columnist - Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017 - 10:06:33 PM

Drinking Beyond the Binge

By Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN, Food & Nutrition Columnist -
May 28, 2017 - 8:56:48 AM

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( - Binge drinking, five or more drinks on one occasion for men and four of more drinks for women, not only suggests risky alcohol use but it is occurring with greater frequency in all age groups. Though binge drinking is often associated with college-aged adults, the prevalence in those over 60 is increasing yearly especially among women.

Binge drinking episodes by themselves are troubling but newer research is suggesting that more adults are engaging in extreme binge drinking. Researchers from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimated that 32 million adults in the US drank more than twice the amount defined as binge drinking sometime within the last year and many drank even more. The researchers divided binge drinkers into three groups.

· Level 1 - Women 4 to 7 drinks; men 5 to 9 drinks on one occasion

· Level 2 - Women 8 to 11 drinks; men 10 to 14 drinks on one occasion

· Level 3 – Women 12 or more drinks; men 15 or more drinks on one occasion

It may seem inconceivable that a person could consume that much alcohol is a few hours and still be conscious, but it happens. In a survey of over 10,000 college students close to 50% of men and 30% of women drank two or more times the minimum level defined as binge drinking sometime in the last two weeks. It has been estimated that four out of every 10 young adults binge drinks on average four times each month. An even sadder statistic, from the survey Monitoring the Future, close to 11% of 12th graders report drinking 10 or more drinks and close to 6% drank more than 15 drinks at some time in the last two weeks.

Failing to remember and blackouts occurs in at least 50% of those with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.22%. BACs of 0.36% can cause death. Binging at Level 3, a 135-female or a 160-pound male would reach a BAC of more than 0.30% in four hours.

In addition to a whopping hangover the next day, binge drinking depresses your immune system. Binge drinking increases the risk of falls, burns, gunshot wounds, car accidents and other serious injuries, but newer research is showing that binge drinking impairs the body’s ability to recover. Researchers at the University of Maryland showed that within 2 to 5 hours of peak intoxication the immune system became less active. This confirms why previous studies showed binge drinking delays wound healing, increases blood loss, and puts patients at higher risks for pneumonia and infections. People who binge drink and are injured are more likely to die than people who are sober when injured because their natural ability to heal is compromised.

A study found that one in four young adults who binge drink has prehypertension which can easily progress to high blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk for heart disease. Less than 10% of young men and 7% of young women have high blood pressure. But in those that binge drink 25% showed symptoms of the problem. Will the blood pressure return to normal if the risky drinking behavior changes? Will the short-term effect of binge drinking increase the likelihood of high blood pressure as the person gets older? Should binge drinkers be treated for high blood pressure? All these questions remain unanswered.

Researchers who analyzed the 1997-2014 National Health Interview Surveys found an increased trend in the amount of alcohol drank by those over 60 and over 12% of this age group were binge drinkers and their numbers are increasing annually. In a European study researchers found that for subjects 62 years old, it took only two drinks to interfere with the ability to walk and step over an obstacle. If you are older you clear alcohol more slowly, so it takes fewer drinks to make you drunk, compromising balance and judgment. For older individuals who binge drink, serious falls and potential broken bones would be very probable. Fifty percent of all fatal falls, head injuries and falling down stairs are alcohol related in those aged 70 and older.

Binge drinking not only increases the risk of death, injury and accidents, but this increased alcohol load leads to many other health issues. Every year 100,000 children are born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and researchers estimate the number will increase because binge drinking by young women is increasing in many countries. Alcohol and the amount drunk are directly linked to many types of cancer including throat, esophagus, liver, colon and breast. Periodontal (gum) disease is connected to heavy drinking resulting in tooth loss due to bone thinning in the jaw.

Routinely taking in excessive alcohol displaces healthy food calories which provide needed nutrients. When vitamin and mineral intake falls, the body loses valuable antioxidants which are one of our first lines of defense against disease. This allows damaging free radicals, made in the body, to function unchecked which increases the risk for chronic health issues.

Bottom line: There is nothing positive to say about binge drinking.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of 30 books. Available as eBooks from iTunes and Kindle/Amazon:

Diabetes Counter

Calorie Counter

Protein Counter

Healthy Wholefoods Counter

Complete Food Counter

Fat and Cholesterol Counter

Available in print from Gallery Books:

Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd Ed.

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:


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