How many alcoholic drinks is too many? Binge drinking on rise

HOUSTON – Binge drinking, once associated with hard partying college students, is now making its way into mainstream America, increasing at alarming rates among middle and upper class adults.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six adults binge drinks at least four times a month.

Binge drinking is defined by how much alcohol someone consumes in a two-hour period. That number is three to four drinks for a woman and four to five drinks for a man.

Dr. Daniel Bober, a psychiatrist, said binge drinkers are not necessarily dependent on alcohol and may not feel like their consumption is a problem.

"Alcohol has become a maladaptive coping strategy for people to deal with life and to lighten the burden of existence," Bober said.

One woman, who asked not to be identified, admitted she drinks an entire bottle of wine in one evening on a regular basis.

"We'll go out for a girl's dinner and I think it's just fun and I love it and it's a release, down time, connecting with people. And certainly, maybe it's the reason my friends are who they are, because we have it in common," she said.

Female binge drinkers are also more likely to avoid eating so they don't gain weight from the added calories and alcohol. It's a condition called "drunkorexia."

Another woman who agreed to be interviewed anonymously stated, "In one day, you consume a certain amount of calories in one day. You're going to want to consume them having fun. You don't want to consume them on boring food."

While binge drinking may not be considered a form of alcoholism, it can increase the risk of heart disease, cancer and liver failure.

"We know now this type of drinking has toxic effects on all parts of the body," Bober added. 

Even with all the potential hazards, many binge drinkers don't feel the need to change their behavior.

A mother who agreed to share her binge drinking experiences said, "Certainly some mornings can feel a little rougher than others, but it's never affected my ability to get up and go to work and take care  of my kids." 

Excessive drinking is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States. The CDC prevention efforts are focusing on training for bartenders and coming up with screening tools to help doctors spot the signs of binge drinking in patients.