Dangers of binge drinking
For many, the holiday season and ringing in the new year is a call for celebration. But it’s also a time when many people especially young adults engage in high-risk binge drinking.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines binge drinking as the consumption of five or more alcoholic drinks for men and four or more drinks for women in one sitting.
Overconsumption of alcohol is responsible for more than 80,000 deaths each year in the U.S., making it the third leading cause of preventable death, the CDC reports. States in the Midwest are among the most affected by binge drinking.
Dr. Ronald B. Lawton, an emergency department physician at Advocate South Suburban Hospital, warns that alcohol affects many vital processes and organs of the body, including the liver, pancreas and heart.
“The full sedative effect of alcohol is delayed for 60 to 90 minutes after intake, so you can ingest more alcohol than the liver can metabolize,” says Dr. Lawton, associate medical director of the hospital’s emergency department. “A person can ingest a large amount in a short period of time and then, if not observed, ‘go to sleep’ and stop breathing.”
What does excessive drinking actually do to your body?
Your stomach lining becomes inflamed and irritated, resulting in pain, nausea and vomiting.
“The minor cases can be treated with antacid, but serious cases can include bleeding,” Dr. Lawton says. Overconsumption of alcohol is one of the most common causes of pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), which can be life threatening.
Another effect of overconsumption is the so-called “holiday heart,” or disturbances in heart rhythm. This ranges from a few extra beats to more serious irregular heart beat conditions, such as atrial fibrillation, a common irregular heartbeat condition that can lead to stroke.
And beyond the common medical health risks, Dr. Lawton says binge drinking can lead down a destructive, dangerous path: “Impaired balance causes falls. Impaired judgment can result in risky behaviors, such as driving too fast, or socially inappropriate or hurtful behavior.
So before you head out to party and ring in the New Year, Dr. Lawton says don’t forget to identify a designated driver if you plan on drinking. If you don’t have anyone to drive you and you live in the Chicago area, check out sites like Designated Drivers of Illinois. There’s also national sites like BeMyDD.com, that can make sure you get home safely and keep others safe on the road too.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.