Binge drinking is a widespread problem in the U.S. Data shows that one in six Americans tends to binge drink from time to time – with 25% of them doing it on a weekly basis. Binge drinking can not only affect a person’s health but can also have social and economic consequences. People who binge drink are at a higher risk of being involved in accidents, having marital troubles, engaging in domestic violence, and contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
If your friend or family member has a binge drinking problem, it is important for you to talk to them and make sure they get the help they need to stop binge drinking. Given below are six things you need to know about talking to a friend or family member about their binge drinking problem.
First a Word of Caution: Domestic Violence
If you’ve experienced domestic violence by your heavy drinking or drug using partner we strongly urge you to get professional help to guide you in this process. You may contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 to speak with trained advocates who can help you. Using these strategies here could put you at increased risk for your loved one becoming violent again.
Defining Binge Drinking vs. Heavy Drinking
The journey towards understanding your relationship with alcohol often begins with clarity about different drinking patterns. Two terms that frequently surface in conversations around alcohol consumption are “binge drinking” and “heavy drinking.” Though sometimes used interchangeably, they represent distinct drinking behaviors. Understanding these can provide a crucial foundation for anyone considering reducing their alcohol intake or seeking sobriety.
Binge Drinking: Binge drinking refers to the consumption of a large amount of alcohol in a short period, leading to intoxication. From a clinical standpoint, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to 0.08% or higher. This typically translates to:
- 5 or more drinks for men within about 2 hours.
- 4 or more drinks for women within about 2 hours.
It’s worth noting that these quantities can vary based on several factors, including body weight, age, metabolism, and tolerance. Binge drinking is concerning because it increases the risk of accidents, injuries, alcohol poisoning, and long-term health issues when done frequently.
Heavy Drinking: Heavy drinking, on the other hand, refers to the prolonged and consistent consumption of alcohol at levels above recommended limits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines heavy drinking as:
- 15 or more drinks per week for men.
- 8 or more drinks per week for women.
Consistent heavy drinking carries its own set of risks, which can be more prolonged and damaging. Chronic diseases, liver cirrhosis, mental health disorders, and a weakened immune system are among the myriad health challenges associated with persistent heavy drinking.
Why the Distinction Matters: Recognizing the difference between binge and heavy drinking is more than just an exercise in semantics. It helps individuals understand their drinking habits and the associated risks. Someone might binge drink occasionally and not see themselves as a heavy drinker, while another might consume alcohol moderately but consistently and exceed the weekly limit of what’s considered “safe” drinking.
Both patterns of drinking pose significant health risks, and recognizing one’s behavior is the first step toward making informed decisions about alcohol consumption. While both binge and heavy drinking indicate excessive alcohol consumption, they do so in different ways: binge drinking is about the intensity in a short duration, and heavy drinking emphasizes the consistent and prolonged intake. Both warrant attention and care for those seeking a healthier relationship with alcohol.
Choose the Right Time to Talk
The best time to talk to someone about their binge drinking problem is when they are sober and relaxed, and not when they are drinking alcohol. Avoid bringing up the subject when they are drunk, angry, upset, or sad.
Make sure you talk to them in a quiet, private place. You can make your point about the harmful effects of binge drinking more convincingly when the other person trusts you for respecting their privacy. Focus on the binge drinking facts to make your points more convincing.
Do not tell them straight away that they have a binge drinking problem. That’s likely to lead to the other person becoming defensive. Instead, put a positive spin on how much you enjoy being with them and doing things when the person is sober. And the flip side is your reaction to them when they’ve been drinking. Always phrase your reactions though as how you feel or react rather than putting the blame on the person.
Your goal is to convey how much you prefer them sober and won’t want to be with them when he/she is drinking.
People who drink excessively can be very defensive about their drinking habits. So, you can expect your friend or family member to take the other side of the “coin” and insist that they are completely fine. They might even get upset or angry with you for bringing up this topic.
If they do, be patient with them and help them understand that you are not trying to judge them. Tell them that you love them and have nothing but their best interests at heart.
You are unlikely to get through to them on your first effort. So, be prepared to talk to them as many times as you need to in order to help them understand that they need to make changes in their drinking. Highlight the concerns you have about how their drinking is negatively impacting your relationship, your children, and other family members.
Watch Your Words
Avoid words like alcoholic, alcohol abuse, substance abuse, or addiction. Maintain a high sense of empathy and compassion with someone when you are attempting to discuss the concept of excessive alcohol consumption.
Similarly, do not assume that they might be suffering from alcohol use disorder. Many people with a binge-drinking habit may not suffer from alcohol dependence or alcohol use disorder, although they are at higher risk compared to moderate drinkers. There is no need for you to treat them like a patient.
A Valuable Self-Help Manual for You
Some colleagues of ours, Drs. Robert Meyers and Jane Smith have developed and evaluated a protocol to help family members and concerned others address heavy drinkers and get them motivated to change their drinking (or drug use). It’s Getting Your Loved One Sober: Alternatives to Pleading, Nagging, and Threatening. This $10 book is invaluable and we highly recommend it.
At CheckUp & Choices, we offer a scientifically designed program that can help binge drinkers and people struggling with other kinds of drinking problems moderate their drinking habit or quit drinking for good. Our methods have been evaluated through randomized clinical trials and have been proven to work effectively.
If your friend or family member is battling an alcohol or substance use problem, introducing them to CheckUp & Choices might be the best thing you can do for them.