Binge Drinking: What It Does to Your Body (2023)

Binge drinking has many effects on your body, both over the short and long term.

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After a night of chasing beers with tequila shots, the next morning’s hangover might actually be the least of your worries.

More research shows that even a single episode of binge drinking can have serious effects on all parts of your body, not just your brain.

Long-term damage from heavy alcohol use isn’t limited to people with alcohol use disorder. Frequent binge drinkers can also develop health problems.

Binge drinking is defined as men consuming five or more drinks within about two hours. For women, it’s defined as consuming four or more drinks within about two hours.

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 1 in 6 U.S. adults reported binge drinking in 2015.

The 37 million binge drinkers had about one binge per week and consumed an average of seven drinks per episode.

That comes out to about 17 billion total binge drinks for the year.

Here’s a look at how all that alcohol is impacting the health of Americans over both the short and long term.

You’ll start to feel the effects of alcohol within 5 to 10 minutes of having a drink.

About 90 percent of the alcohol in your blood is broken down by the liver. The rest is excreted through the lungs, kidneys, or in sweat.

For an average-sized person, the liver can only break down about one standard drink per hour. If you drink more alcohol than what your liver can process, your blood alcohol content (BAC) will increase. So will the effects on your body.

Other factors also affect your BAC, such as how quickly you drink, whether you’ve eaten recently, and your body type. Even your age, sex, and ethnicity play a part.

Binge drinking has many effects on the body. But what’s often overlooked is that it can be a risky activity.

“It’s estimated that about half of all alcohol-related deaths in the United States are related to acute intoxication, and most of the economic costs are also related to binge drinking,” said Dr. Timothy Naimi, professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and co-author of the CDC study.

Binge drinking can lead to death from alcohol poisoning. Or by depressing the gag reflex, which puts a person who has passed out at risk of choking on their own vomit.

Excessive alcohol also affects your actions, which can increase your risk of injuries and death from motor vehicle accidents, drowning, suffocation, and other accidents.

“Acutely, when you’re impaired by alcohol, you not only have poor coordination, but you also have very poor judgment and very poor executive functioning,” Naimi told Healthline.

Alcohol is also often found in the blood of people who harm themselves or attempt suicide.

A single night of binge drinking has a number of other effects, especially at higher amounts.

“When it comes to inflammation of the pancreas, stomach, or liver, those effects can be acute,” said Naimi. “A very heavy single drinking episode, or several of those in a short space of time, can cause acute inflammation and irritation of those organs.”

In addition to increasing the risk of injury, binge drinking impairs the body’s ability to heal from those injuries.

“If a person is drunk and gets injured, the person will have more complications when alcohol is present in the body, as opposed to a person who may not have been exposed to alcohol,” said Mashkoor Choudhry, PhD, director of the Alcohol Research Program at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

Binge drinking can also affect your:

  • Heart. Heavy drinking can cause high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, or sudden death from heart failure.
  • Kidneys. Alcohol is a diuretic, which causes the kidneys to produce more urine. This, alone or with vomiting, can lead to dehydration and dangerously low levels of sodium, potassium, and other minerals and salts.
  • Lungs. Alcohol inhibits the gag reflex, which can lead to vomit, saliva, or other substances entering the lungs. This can cause inflammation or infection in the lungs.
  • Pancreas. A single session of heavy alcohol use can lead to dangerously low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).
  • Sexual health. Being drunk increases the chance of having unsafe sex — which can lead to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or unplanned pregnancy.

After a single night of binge drinking, some of the short-term effects will go away.

Many, like injuries or STIs, can stay with you for years.

There’s not a lot of research on how long the physical effects of binge drinking last, or whether your body can recover completely.

More frequent binge drinking, though, is more likely to lead to long-term damage.

One recent study by researchers at the University of California at San Francisco found that 21 binge drinking sessions over seven weeks was enough to cause symptoms of early stage liver disease in mice.

More research needs to be done on people, but the effects of long-term heavy alcohol use are already well-known.

Over the long run, alcohol increases the risk of several cancers, including cancer of the liver, mouth, throat, voice box, esophagus, colon, and rectum. Even a few drinks a week is linked with an increased risk of breast cancer in women.

Heavy, long-term alcohol use can lead to alcoholic liver disease, which includes inflammation of the liver and cirrhosis.

Excessive drinking is also bad for the cardiovascular system, leading to increased risk of heart attack, high blood pressure, and irregular heartbeat.

More researchers are looking at the effects of alcohol on the intestinal microbiome — the bacteria and other organisms that live inside us.

“A single alcohol drink may not have that much of an impact [on the microbiome], but bingeing or chronic alcohol drinking certainly will change the microbiome in the gastrointestinal tract,” said Choudhry. “And this microbiome has many long-term effects on different parts of the body.”

The microbiome has been implicated in medical conditions ranging from irritable bowel syndrome to obesity.

Long-term heavy alcohol use can also affect your:

  • Blood and immune system. Chronic alcohol use can lead to anemia, low platelets, and a suppressed immune system.
  • Bones and muscles. Heavy long-term use of alcohol can interfere with absorption of calcium and bone formation. This can lead to osteoporosis.
  • Brain and nervous system. Heavy alcohol use increases the risk of stroke and can lead to dementia or impaired balance and coordination.
  • Mental health. In addition to alcohol dependency and addiction, heavy drinkers are at higher risk of depression, anxiety, and psychosis.
  • Sexual health. Chronic heavy use of alcohol can reduce fertility in men and women and decrease a man’s sex drive. Drinking while pregnant can also affect the health of the fetus.
  • Intestines. Heavy alcohol intake can interfere with the absorption of vitamins and other nutrients in the gut. This can lead to malnutrition.

Cutting back on the amount or frequency of drinking can reduce these risks. But even low-risk alcohol use doesn’t mean no risk.

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends that men consume no more than four drinks on any day and no more than 14 drinks per week. Women should drink no more than three drinks a day and no more than seven per week.

Reducing the impact of binge drinking on society, though, will need recognizing the scope of the problem and addressing it with alcohol taxes, alcohol advertising guidelines, and reasonable restrictions on availability of alcohol.

“Binge drinking is a very common behavior. It’s not a behavior that’s limited, by any means, to alcoholics,” said Naimi. “And it’s a behavior that can be readily reduced by strong public health interventions.”


Binge Drinking: What It Does to Your Body? ›

High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems. Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum. Weakening of the immune system, increasing the chances of getting sick. Learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor school performance.

What happens to your body when you go on a drinking binge? ›

“A very heavy single drinking episode, or several of those in a short space of time, can cause acute inflammation and irritation of those organs.” In addition to increasing the risk of injury, binge drinking impairs the body's ability to heal from those injuries.

What's the difference between a binge drinker and an alcoholic? ›

People who are addicted to alcohol tend to drink almost every day. This means that they typically have the same amount of alcohol in them every night and often increase their drinking after being sober for a period. However, the binge drinker tends to have a short period in which they consume most of their alcohol.

What binge drinking does to your brain? ›

Alcohol makes it harder for the brain areas controlling balance, memory, speech, and judgment to do their jobs, resulting in a higher likelihood of injuries and other negative outcomes. Long-term heavy drinking causes alterations in the neurons, such as reductions in their size.

What does binge drinking do to your face? ›

Alcohol dehydrates your body, including the skin – and this happens every time you drink. When you drink, the dehydrating (or 'diuretic') effect of alcohol means your skin loses fluid and nutrients that are vital for healthy-looking skin. This can make your skin look wrinkled, dull and grey, or bloated and puffy.

What 3 things can binge drinking cause? ›

Unintentional injuries such as motor vehicle crashes, falls, burns, and alcohol poisoning. Violence including homicide, suicide, intimate partner violence, and sexual assault. Sexually transmitted diseases. Unintended pregnancy and poor pregnancy outcomes, including miscarriage and stillbirth.

What are the 4 types of drinker? ›

There are four types of drinker – which one are you?
  • Social drinking. To date, nearly all the research on drinking motives has been done on teens and young adults. ...
  • Drinking to conform. ...
  • Drinking for enhancement. ...
  • Drinking to cope.

How bad is binge drinking every night? ›

Over time, alcohol misuse, including repeated episodes of binge drinking, contributes to liver and other chronic diseases as well as increases the risk of several types of cancer, including head and neck, esophageal, liver, breast, and colorectal cancers. Binge drinking can be deadly.

Can you be a heavy drinker and not an alcoholic? ›

A study published by the CDC based on data from 138,000 study participants (the largest study of its kind ever published), found that 90% of those who identified themselves as “excessive” or “heavy” drinkers were not alcoholics; i.e., did not meet established criteria for a diagnosis of Alcohol Dependence.

Can you drink alcohol everyday and not be an alcoholic? ›

Nine in 10 adults who drink too much alcohol are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent, according to a new study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in collaboration with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Does binge drinking change personality? ›

The answer is yes. Alcohol can change your personality long-term, which may cause you to develop a drinking problem. Alcohol can cause damage to the brain, which could lead to personality changes or act as a trigger for other mental health issues like anxiety or depression.

Why do intelligent people binge drink? ›

“People higher in general intelligence tend to drink more because they're not bothered by the strangeness of the alcohol experience,” said the evolutionary psychologist and professor at the University of Victoria.

How long can a binge drinker live? ›

The teetotaler (0 drinks/week) and the excessive drinker (8+ drinks/week) were projected to live to 92 and 93 years old, respectively. The same person having one drink per week was projected to live to 94, and the moderate drinker (2-7 drinks/week) was projected to live 95 years.

What are the first signs of liver damage from alcohol? ›

Generally, symptoms of alcoholic liver disease include abdominal pain and tenderness, dry mouth and increased thirst, fatigue, jaundice (which is yellowing of the skin), loss of appetite, and nausea. Your skin may look abnormally dark or light. Your feet or hands may look red.

Does binge drinking cause belly fat? ›

Calories from alcohol are 'empty calories', meaning they have little nutritional benefit. So consuming extra calories through drinking can lead to weight gain. Typically, men tend to show weight gain around their middle3,4, which is how the term 'beer belly' came about.

Does binge drinking make you look older? ›

Excessive drinking can wreak havoc on a person's skin. Since alcohol depletes levels of vitamins, (especially vitamin A) the skin's collagen levels plummet. As a result, a person's skin may lose all elasticity and become wrinkled. Wrinkles may be caused by alcohol's ability to dehydrate the skin as well.

What are 5 dangers associated with binge drinking? ›

Binge drinkers have a greater risk of:
  • Killing someone.
  • Suicide.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Heart attack.
  • Inflammation of the stomach, pancreas, brain, or spinal cord.
  • Unsafe sex.
  • Sexually transmitted infections.
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol.

What is considered a heavy drinker? ›

What do you mean by heavy drinking? For men, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 15 drinks or more per week. For women, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 8 drinks or more per week.

How much alcohol is considered binge drinking? ›

NIAAA defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent - or 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter - or higher. For a typical adult, this pattern corresponds to consuming 5 or more drinks (male), or 4 or more drinks (female), in about 2 hours.

What are the 5 A's of alcoholism? ›

Clinical guidelines recommend addressing adolescent alcohol use in primary care; the 5 As (Ask, Advise, Assess, Assist, Arrange) may be a useful model for intervention.

Do true feelings come out when drunk? ›

Do true feelings come out when you're drunk? True feelings may come out when you're drunk, but this isn't necessarily true all the time. Instead, alcohol can make people make fake stories and react with emotions they don't feel.

Is binge drinking worse than smoking? ›

While drinking can be a threat to your health, smoking is certainly worse. Unlike alcohol at low or moderate levels, there is no benefit to tobacco use at any level. When you smoke, you inhale various chemicals that can injure cells, causing both cancer and artery damage (e.g. heart attacks and strokes).

Does binge drinking cause brain damage? ›

If a person regularly drinks much more than the recommended limit of alcohol, it can damage their brain. It causes their memory and ability to think clearly to get worse over time, especially if the person drinks too much over many years.

Can one night of binge drinking damage your liver? ›

The researchers also found that even a single episode of binge drinking elevated the levels of the liver enzyme CYP2E1, which metabolizes alcohol into toxic by-products that can cause oxidative damage and other forms of tissue injury.

What alcohol does to your body after 40? ›

Lead to some kinds of cancer, liver damage, immune system disorders, and brain damage. Worsen some health conditions such as osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, ulcers, memory loss, and mood disorders. Make some medical conditions hard for doctors to accurately diagnose and treat.

How do I know if I'm really an alcoholic? ›

Impaired control over alcohol use

This might mean not being able to control how long a drinking session is, how much alcohol you consume when you do drink, how frequently you drink, being unable to stop drinking once you start, or drinking on inappropriate occasions or at inappropriate places.

What are the first signs of kidney damage from alcohol? ›

What are the first signs of kidney damage from alcohol?
  • fatigue.
  • swelling of the legs, ankles, and feet due to fluid retention.
  • loss of appetite.
  • change in urine.
  • kidney pain.
Apr 26, 2022

What a month without alcohol really does to your body? ›

Summary. Across the month, your body is likely to have benefitted greatly from giving up alcohol. Better hydration and improved sleep will have increased your productivity and daily wellbeing. Your liver, stomach and skin will also have benefitted from not dealing with alcohol.

What happens to your body after 3 months of no alcohol? ›

Although positive changes may appear earlier, 3 months of not drinking can not only improve your mood, energy, sleep, weight, skin health, immune health, and heart health. It can even reduce your risk of cancer.

Is binge drinking a mental illness? ›

Alcohol abuse can cause signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, psychosis, and antisocial behavior, both during intoxication and during withdrawal. At times, these symptoms and signs cluster, last for weeks, and mimic frank psychiatric disorders (i.e., are alcohol–induced syndromes).

How do you know if someone is a binge drinker? ›

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of excessive drinking that brings a person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams or above. This typically happens when men consume five or more drinks or women consume four or more drinks in about two hours.

Does drinking show your true personality? ›

Key points. While under the influence you'll probably act differently, but that doesn't mean drinking reveals who you really are. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, leading you to act more impulsively and care less about how others adversely regard your behavior.

Are binge drinkers happier? ›

But binge drinking actually seemed to contribute to this satisfaction. High-status binge drinkers were happier with their social lives than high-status students who didn't binge drink. And low-status students who binge drank had higher social satisfaction than their non-binging peers.

Do alcoholics tend to have a higher IQ? ›

We found that lower results on IQ tests are associated with higher consumption of alcohol measured in terms of both total alcohol intake and binge drinking in Swedish adolescent men.

Does alcohol destroy brain cells? ›

Alcohol does kill brain cells. Some of those cells can be regenerated over time. In the meantime, the existing nerve cells branch out to compensate for the lost functions. This damage may be permanent.

Can the liver repair itself after years of drinking? ›

The liver is very resilient and capable of regenerating itself. Each time your liver filters alcohol, some of the liver cells die. The liver can develop new cells, but prolonged alcohol misuse (drinking too much) over many years can reduce its ability to regenerate.

Can binge drinking be fixed? ›

For a person that suffers from an alcohol use disorder, the only cure for binge drinking that has been found to work in the long term is complete and continued abstinence from alcohol. Some people, in addition to not being able to control the amount they drink, also cannot control when they drink.

How long does it take to cause liver damage from heavy drinking? ›

Heavy alcoholics consuming at least 80 g of alcohol per day for more than 10 years will develop liver disease at a rate of nearly 100%.

What are the 4 warning signs of a damaged liver? ›

10 early signs and symptoms of liver disease
  • A general unwell feeling. ...
  • Jaundice or yellowing of the skin and eyes.
  • Frequent gassy sensation. ...
  • Confusion. ...
  • Fluid retention: A weak liver can result in swelling due to fluid retention, especially of the feet and ankles.

Which alcohol is hardest on liver? ›

Myth 3: Drinking hard liquor is worse than drinking beer or wine. Contrary to popular belief, the type of alcohol you drink doesn't make a difference – what matters is how much you drink. "The safe limit is fixed at 14 units a week," explains Dr Lui. "Below this limit, alcoholic fatty liver is less likely to occur.

How do you know if your liver is struggling? ›

If signs and symptoms of liver disease do occur, they may include: Skin and eyes that appear yellowish (jaundice) Abdominal pain and swelling. Swelling in the legs and ankles.

What is binge drinking vs heavy drinking? ›

For men, binge drinking is 5 or more drinks consumed on one occasion. Underage drinking: Any alcohol use by those under age 21. Heavy drinking: For women, heavy drinking is 8 drinks or more per week. For men, heavy drinking is 15 drinks or more per week.

How much weight will I lose if I stop drinking alcohol for a month? ›

Depending on how much you drank, your starting weight, your age, and how you've treated diet and exercise since you stopped drinking, it's not uncommon to lose anywhere between 6-15 pounds after a month without alcohol.

Does alcohol change your face? ›

Alcohol dehydrates your body, including the skin – and this happens every time you drink. When you drink, the dehydrating (or 'diuretic') effect of alcohol means your skin loses fluid and nutrients that are vital for healthy-looking skin. This can make your skin look wrinkled, dull and grey, or bloated and puffy.

Does drinking change your face shape? ›

Alcohol can cause water retention in your face. This makes your face look bloated and puffy.

How fast does alcohol age you? ›

Similarly, in the MR analysis, higher genetically-predicted alcohol consumption was associated with shorter telomere length. An increase from 10 units to 32 units per week was associated with the equivalent of 3 years of aging.

What happens to your body after a night of heavy drinking? ›

As a result, alcohol increases urination and excess loss of fluids. The mild dehydration that results likely contributes to hangover symptoms such as thirst, fatigue, and a headache. Disrupted sleep: People may fall asleep faster after drinking alcohol, but their sleep is fragmented, and they tend to wake up earlier.

How do you recover from a binge drink? ›

Steps To Take After Binge Drinking
  1. Try coffee or tea. These do not make a hangover go away any faster, but they may help you stay more alert as your body is rebalancing itself. ...
  2. Drink liquids. ...
  3. Eat carbohydrates. ...
  4. Take over-the-counter medication that does not contain acetaminophen (Tylenol) ...
  5. Consider taking vitamin B6.

Is binge drinking drinking to get drunk? ›

Binge drinking refers to individuals who set out to get drunk on a given occasion by drinking five or more drinks in the course of a short period of time (e.g., over the course of two hours). Binge drinking is quite common in both high schools and colleges.

Which organ does heavy drinking effect? ›

Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including: Steatosis, or fatty liver. Alcoholic hepatitis. Fibrosis.

How long does it take for heavy drinking to cause damage? ›

Between 10 to 20 percent of heavy drinkers develop cirrhosis typically after 10 or more years of drinking.

How long can you live binge drinking? ›

The teetotaler (0 drinks/week) and the excessive drinker (8+ drinks/week) were projected to live to 92 and 93 years old, respectively. The same person having one drink per week was projected to live to 94, and the moderate drinker (2-7 drinks/week) was projected to live 95 years.

What are the 3 types of alcoholic? ›

Alcohols bind with other atoms to create secondary alcohols. These secondary alcohols are the three types of alcohol that humans use every day: methanol, isopropanol, and ethanol.

What is the most serious withdrawal symptom associated with alcoholism? ›

The most severe manifestations of withdrawal include delirium tremens, hallucinations, and seizures. These manifestations result from alcohol-induced imbalances in the brain chemistry that cause excessive neuronal activity if the alcohol is withheld.

Who is most likely to be a binge drinker? ›

Which groups are the most likely to binge drink? Which groups are least likely to binge drink? The most common groups to binge drink are athletes, sports fans, fraternity and sorority members and extremely social students. The least likely to drink are women, minorities, religious, married and older students.

Do people grow out of binge drinking? ›

Episodes of binge drinking start to decrease in older adults. “Most people grow up and grow out of binge drinking,” says Dr. Cabiac. “Studies show that only 9 percent of those age 30 to 50 binge drink.


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