Binge drinking

Binge drinking usually refers to drinking lots of alcohol in a short space of time or drinking to get drunk.

Researchers define binge drinking as consuming eight or more units in a single session for men and six or more for women.

However, this definition does not apply to everyone because the tolerance and the speed of drinking in a session varies from person to person.

When drinking, try to pace yourself, avoid drinking more than you are used to and avoid drinking so much that you get drunk.

This is even more important if you are out in risky or unfamiliar circumstances. You can be at risk from others, and may not be able to look after your friends.

You can easily lose control of what you do or say and may make risky decisions, thinking you’re invulnerable.

Binge drinking increases the risk of heart attack. It could cause you to vomit and if you’re sick when very drunk you could breathe in your own vomit and suffocate.

Drink-by-drink guide

Below is a drink-by-drink guide, based on a standard (175ml) 12% volume glass of white wine and 4% strength pint of lager, showing how quickly alcohol can affect your mind and body.

One glass of white wine or a pint of lager (approximately two units):

  • You’re talkative and you feel relaxed.
  • Your self-confidence increases.
  • Driving ability is already impaired, which is why it is best to drink no alcohol if you're driving.

Two glasses of white wine or two pints of lager (approximately four units):

  • Your blood flow increases.
  • You feel less inhibited and your attention span is shorter.
  • You start dehydrating, one of the causes of a hangover.

Three glasses of white wine or three pints of lager (approximately six units):

  • Your reaction time is slower.
  • Your liver has to work harder.
  • Your sex drive may increase, while your judgement may decrease.

Four glasses of white wine or three and a half pints of lager (approximately eight units):

  • You’re easily confused.
  • You’re noticeably emotional.
  • Your sex drive could now decrease and you may become less capable.

The NHS recommends:

  • Men should not regularly drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day
  • Women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day
  • If you've had a heavy drinking session, avoid alcohol for 48 hours

    "Regularly" means drinking this amount every day or most days of the week.

    Bear in mind that some people (including women, young people and those with smaller builds) may experience the effects after drinking smaller amounts of alcohol.

    If you have developed a tolerance to alcohol you may find that some of these effects do not apply to you.

    In that case, consider whether it is time to cut back on your drinking or whether you need to seek help. 

    Page last reviewed: 31/12/2014

    Next review due: 31/12/2016


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    The 5 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

    User927505 said on 19 December 2014

    I would just like to add that there is a strong link between depression and heavy drinking. Alcohol appears to alleviate the symptoms of depression initially but the after effects are nothing but destructive, emotionally and physically. You get caught in a classic viscous circle.

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    deniseaa said on 13 May 2012

    Whatever the % on the bottle or can, if you drink a litre of it you are drinking that many units. Eg spirits (gin, vodka, scotch) are usually 40%, so if you drink a litre, you have drunk 40 units. A standard bottle of spirits us near enough 3/4 of a litre (70 cls) so that is 3/4 of 40, which is 30, so a standard 70cl bottle of spirits at 40% is 30 units. If you drink 2 typical cans of lager at 5%, each can will be either 500mls (or a bit less - 440 mls), so 2 cans will be roughly a litre, so 5 units for the 2 cans. You can work it out from that simple principle - Whatever the % on the bottle or can, if you drink a litre of it you are drinking that many units.

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    Mid Lifer said on 03 May 2012

    Personally I think it's down to habit and what you see around you.

    When we start drinking, the culture/peer pressure is to drink as much as possible. Getting drunk when you 16 is like an achievement and 'crazy' stories make you the man (and probably annoy the hell out of some people). This seems to be the model for a British drinker.

    This is my view on why we binge drink.

    The good news is that most people can learn different habits of drinking too.


    Stopping after one drink.
    Alternating alcoholic drinks with soft drinks.

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    Richard English said on 26 March 2012

    This definition of binge drinking is rubbish and quite unsuitable for deciding policy. It suggests that a person drinking 4 pints of beer or 4 glasses of wine on a single occasion - even if that single occasion is maybe only once a year - is a binge drinker.

    In fact, four pints of beer is a relatively modest quantity for an occasional celebration or visit to a special event; it could only be considered binge-drinking were it to be a daily occurrance.

    The binge-drinking episodes we see aired on TV are not of those who have simply had four pints of ale on one occasion; they are of those who have drunk large quanitities of strong drinks with the sole intention of beocming intoxicated.

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    Mar gar eater said on 09 December 2010

    How do I calculate a unit of alcohol when I go out? I know there is a calculator on this website but there is no easy conversion. I notice only the UK measures alcohol in "Units".

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