Mt Lawley Counselling Centre, Perth - Western AustraliaMt Lawley Counselling Centre, Perth - Western Australia

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Binge Drinking

Jeannie Minchin

Clinical Psychologist, Psychotherapist
Perth, Western Australia

BINGE: " a period of excessive indulgence in an activity, especially drinking alcohol or eating"1

How often do you start a night out with the intention of only having one or two drinks at the most, and then wake up the next morning (or afternoon) with a raging hangover and very little memory of what went on the night before?

Because alcohol is so widely used across Australia, people often do not realise the harm it can cause when used in excess.

Alcohol has both short- and long-term effects on us across many levels. Think of it as the four L's:

Liver (and overall physical health)

Any amount of alcohol effects our entire physical health, not just our liver.

Brain:Within a few minutes of consuming alcohol different systems in the brain are being affected. Your inhibitory system is one of the first affected - this is why you start to feel more relaxed. People become more talkative, get up onto the dance floor (when normally they wouldn't), believe they are funny and tell jokes, spend more money, and generally start to behave in a way that is out of their "norm". But, as the alcohol intake continues, talk becomes slurred and incoherent, joke telling becomes annoying and not-funny, and dancing turns into just stumbling around. At this point your judgment, motor co-ordination, senses, cognitions and speech are all reduced. And, if your blood-alcohol concentrate (BAC) gets high enough, your basic body systems, such as breathing, bladder control, and consciousness, begin to shut down.
Kidneys:Your kidneys are working overtime and struggle to re-absorb enough water to produce urine. Without enough water you become dehydrated which may in turn result in the headache part of you hangover.
Stomach & small intestine:Vomiting whilst drunk can be caused by the stomach lining and small intestine becoming inflamed by the amount of alcohol you are asking it to absorb. Nausea and vomiting may continue even after your BAC has returned to zero.
Bladder:Your bladder needs to expel the excess fluid that the kidneys cannot reabsorb, and, as mentioned above, a high BAC affects the areas in your brain that control your bladder, with the result of not being able to control your bladder.
Liver:Your liver metabolises toxins into non-toxins at a fairly stable rate regardless of how fast you are drinking. The toxins cannot be broken down fast enough resulting in side effects such as a facing heart, sweating, and flushed skin.
Skin:Blood flow to your skin is increased which causes sweating and a drop in body temperature.

Lover (meaningful relationships)

In Macbeth, William Shakespeare said (of alcohol) "it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance...it makes him, and it mars him..." So, after a few drinks, you may desire a sexual encounter, but not have the ability to follow through . That is, alcohol will affect your sexual performance but not necessarily your desire.

In the long-term, it is likely that if you drink alcohol your relationships with others will change. If you are caught up in a cycle of drinking, some of the things your partner may experience are your alcohol-effected behaviour, hangover, lack of sleep, mood, associated health problems, and lack of ability to perform sexually.

Livelihood (finances, housing and employment)

Alcohol misuse has many costs, and not just financial. You may lose your job because of a pattern of absenteeism due to hangovers or even being caught drunk on the job. Without a job you are unable to pay your rent or mortgage and you lose your house. You may become homeless or end up having to move back in with your parents! Imagine how this may impact on your mental health and self-esteem.

Legal (problems with the law)

And finally, you may end up in trouble with the law. It may be something as simple as a charge of "urinating in a public place" or something more serious such as "grievous bodily harm". The result is that you now have a police record, which may hamper employment opportunities or even obtaining a foreign entry visa in the future.

Long-term alcohol intake will produce long-term effects on your entire body and the way it functions.

How Can You Avoid Falling Into the Trap of Excessive or Binge Drinking?

  • If you are thirsty, drink water (or something non-alcoholic). This should slow down your alcohol intake and help to counteract the dehydration that accompanies too much alcohol.
  • If you can, alternate your alcoholic drinks with a non-alcoholic drink.
  • Do not drink on an empty stomach. Go out with some "blotting paper" in your stomach. This will slow down the absorption of the alcohol into your system.
  • If you are out at a restaurant eating a meal, make sure you have plenty of water to sip on during your meal.
  • Count your drinks. Finish one drink before you pour yourself another. If you allow your host or someone else to "top up" your drink before you have finished, you cannot keep a record of how much you have drunk.
  • If you know you can end up drinking too much if you are alone, don't drink alone. Be accountable for your drinking in front of someone else.
  • If you know that others try to push you into drinking too much, you only have to be stand up for yourself the first time once, after that, you are just reinforcing your earlier decision to take it easy.
  • Don't be caught out by the myth that drinking lots of coffee or having a cold shower will sober you up. They don't. Your body can only expel the alcohol as fast as it can metabolise it.

If you would like to learn more, please contact Jeannie on 0406 033 644 or email jeannie@jeannieminchin.com.au

Jeannie Minchin
Clinical Psychologist, Psychotherapist

Mt Lawley Counselling Centre
13 Alvan Street
Mount Lawley, WA 6050

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References

  • Oxford University Press, 2015.


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