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.

To reduce the risk of harming your health if you drink most weeks:

  • men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week
  • spread your drinking over three days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week

Fourteen units is equivalent to six pints of average strength beer or 10 small glasses of low strength wine.

During a single drinking session, try to: 

  • limit how much you drink
  • drink more slowly
  • drink with food
  • alternate with water or non-alcoholic drinks

Keeping track of your drinking 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:

  • accidents, like head injuries and fractures
  • alcohol poisoning
  • heart disease

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.

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.

Find out how to treat a hangover 

Page last reviewed: 31/12/2014

Next review due: 31/12/2016

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