Archive | November, 2014

Can we quit “binge drinking”?

19 Nov

pg-08-alcohol-Rex_235373s ‘Binge drinking’ is probably the defining alcohol term of the last few decades. Hype over alcopops, dramatic media headlines and the variety of ‘binge Britain’ based low budget TV shows are testament to its enduring popularity. As such, people often frame their ideas of problem drinking around ‘binge drinking’ (and of course ‘alcoholics’). Both potentially problematic terms.

In terms of where  people ‘fit’ with regard to their alcohol use then, it’s important to recognise the alcohol use/misuse spectrum. That is that drinking ‘categories’ are fluid, and so individuals don’t fit or stick neatly into boxes. People, their circumstances and their consumption are often in various states of change, and labelling or subjective terms carry many risks.

Most adults are ‘low risk’ drinkers, but at certain times of the year their drinking might go up. Generally though they will re-set their consumption of their own accord, or when an occasion (such as Christmas) has passed. The same can even be said for dependency in some ways – most people who do experience some level of dependency recover on their own, usually without any formal support or treatment.alcohol & language

So where do ‘binge drinkers’ fit in all this? And can it ever be a useful term?

Taking the technical definition of drinking twice the daily guideline or more in one go, ‘binge drinkers’ can actually ‘fit’ into any of the main drinking ‘risk’ groups – depending on frequency. Someone who ‘binge drinks’ once a year on their birthday but generally keeps within the guidelines will be a ‘low risk’ drinker overall. But someone who ‘binges’ regularly, most days of the week, will probably be showing at least some signs of dependency.

‘Binge drinking’ overlooks one crucial risk factor: frequency

Of course the media obsession with ‘binge drinking’ means that it’s so commonly used to describe drinking patterns, but as highlighted, frequency of drinking can be just as relevant as the amount consumed on a given occasion. People tend to recognise the role of alcohol free days for ‘giving the body a break’, but for many people it may be reducing the risk of dependency that is more relevant. In fact my own experience of increasingly frequent ‘binge drinking’ resulted in increasing tolerance and other symptoms of dependency.

At the time though I was actually quite proud to be a ‘binge drinker’ in some ways – drinking was part of my identify. I saw alcohol largely as positive, and I gave little consideration to the damage it might have been doing – until I actually did develop related health problems. These problems actually triggered contemplation, and eventually I went a long period without drinking at all. The main benefit of IBA though may be to trigger contemplation before problems or dependency develop.

Binge drinking will continue to be used, and perhaps more accurately to describe ‘drinking to get drunk’, rather than a fixed amount. But like with the term ‘alcoholic’, we should seek to avoid describing individuals as such, unless they choose that term themselves. Using a validated assessment tool like the AUDIT gives us a more useful way to identify what risk someone’s drinking they may pose, so may help us quit “binge drinking”.

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