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St. Patrick’s Day is about the fun, parades and parties, but there is a danger with all of the alcohol many people consume during the day.  Dr. Anne Lewis is a clinical psychologist with the IU Health Charis Center who specializes in helping people with eating disorders and substance abuse. She has tips on how to not go overboard.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) released some startling facts about binge drinking on St. Patrick’s day.

  • 276: Drunk-driving casualties on St. Patrick Day (2009 – 2013)
  • 75% of drivers involved in St. Patrick’s Day DUI crashes are t times over the legal limit
  • 46 minutes – the interval at which alcohol-related crashes claim a life on St. Patrick’s Day
  1. What is the definition of ‘binge drinking’?

“The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. This typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks, and when women consume 4 or more drinks, in about 2 hours.1”

  1. What counts as binge drinking?

What is interesting about the above-mentioned amounts is that the amount of alcohol consumed not only depends upon gender, but also depends upon age and alcohol content or equivalencies.  Men metabolize alcohol at a faster speed then women.  Moreover, drink equivalencies are equally surprising to those who are unaware.

One drink is equal to:

  • 5 oz 80 proof spirits (gin, vodka, rum, etc)
  • 12 oz beer
  • 8-9 oz malt liquor
  • 5 oz table wine
  • 3 oz port wine

In addition to these equivalencies, many drinks are made using a combination of shots or have more alcohol than many would realize.  A standard (small) long island ice tea has roughly 5 shots (or 5 drinks); a standard margarita is 1.7 drinks; pina colada is 2 drinks.

  1. What are the consequences of binge drinking?

First and foremost, although binge drinking does not mean you have an alcohol use disorder, it can quickly turn into an alcohol use disorder. It becomes easy to surround ourselves with people who are drinking in a similar fashion and therefore seems “normal”.  However, consistent and repeated similar use develops not only a habit and pattern of behavior, but also provides us with a skewed idea of what “fun” feels like, and increases tolerance of alcohol.

“At least 80 percent of binge drinkers are not alcohol dependent. Yet binge drinking accounts for most deaths from alcohol…Alcoholism is a very insidious disease in that it can creep up on you if you’re not vigilant. So this level of binge drinking if it’s left unchecked, for a lot of people, could lead to alcoholism.” – Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, Director of the CDC, (pulled from U.S. News)

Secondly, there are consequences with binge drinking that many struggle to appreciate.

  • This is the most likely form of drinking that may lead to death (as related to alcohol poisoning or accidents that occur while driving).  Oftentimes, people will consume drinks rapidly, not feeling the full effect of the alcohol until it gets into the bloodstream.   This is important as this becomes a factor in people may not learn their limit with alcohol until after they’ve had significantly more than what they can handle.
  • Binge drinking also increases the likelihood of poor decision making such as acting impulsively sexually, driving while intoxicated, or engaging in other risk-taking behavior (e.g., use of drugs, vandalism, walking home alone, or being negatively influenced by a peer).  Likewise, binge drinking increases the risk of sexual assault and domestic violence for both victims as well as perpetrators, as this can lead to miscommunication or misunderstandings between parties or exaggerated emotional responses such as anger.
  • Statistics have also shown a decrease in work and school performance as well as attendance for people who binge drink.  Along this line, short term memory, learning, and performance measures have shown impairment following a binge drinking episode, making us less effective employees or less able to be productive in a work or educational environment.

4. There are several long term effects of binge drinking that include:

  • Brain damage
  • Liver disease
  • Stroke
  • Heart problems
  • Cancer
  • Infertility

5.  Tips to enjoy the St. Patrick’s holiday without going overboard.

Set a Limit in advance:  “low risk” use of alcohol is no more than 4 drinks for men and 3 for women, in any given day, with set maximums per week (9 and 7, respectively).  If you find yourself drinking your first drink surprisingly fast, allow yourself to moderate your consumption by drinking non-alcoholic drinks in between or watch the clock for when you can have your next drink.

Eat and Stay hydrated. Drinking water and consuming food allows for some absorption of the alcohol, slowing the rate alcohol enters the bloodstream.  This is beneficial as it allows us to be more aware of the choices we are making and permits us the ability to monitor our intake more effectively. Likewise, staying hydrated will help us overall not feel “thirsty” and inclined to drink faster than typical.

Enlist friends and family. If you are at a party, enlist those around you in making a pact for moderate drinking.  Each of person can help remind you of the reasons why you want to drink moderately and/or can help you stay aware of the number of drinks you are consuming.

Develop a back-up plan. I’ve heard of several stories of people left at parties by their ride and driving home because they felt they had no other option available.  This resulted in a trip for a substance abuse evaluation and subsequent classes after a DUI.  Plan in advance.  If you know you are going to be drinking, make a plan to take a taxi, use an Uber driver, or a trusted friend who is willing and reliable and will be a designated driver. Get rid of your keys the second you enter a party so you don’t have to make a decision later on.  Regarding safety issues, make an agreement that no friend leaves alone or goes off with a stranger.