St. Patrick’s Day Means Elevated Drinking, Lots of Risk
For anyone that has been around festivities on St. Patrick’s Day, it will likely come as no surprise that the holiday founded in remembrance of Ireland’s patron Saint, is considered by some estimates to be the fourth biggest drinking day of the year. While adult consumption of alcohol can be done safely and responsibly, reasonable drinking guidelines are often discarded in favor of excessive drinking, known as binge drinking.
Just what exactly is binge drinking? The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism gives us a specific definition as, “a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to .08 grams perfect or above”. Generally speaking, this means drinking 5 or more drinks within a two hour period for men, or 4 or more drinks for women. Contrary to some beliefs, binge drinking does not necessarily mean a person is alcohol dependent, or would have a diagnosable substance use disorder, but rather indicates an irresponsible drinking pattern that could endanger anyone.
Binge drinking may be more common than you think. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that 1 in 6 Americans engages in binge drinking four times a month. Demographically, the age group most prone to binge drinking are those aged 18-24 at 26.1%, though even middle aged persons report a rate just short of 16%. Statistics show binge drinking being particularly high on St. Patrick’s day, with more than 1/3 of drivers involved in fatal accidents on this day having a BAC above the legal limit These crashes occur once every 46 minutes during the Holiday.
It is important to note that binge drinking is nothing to shrug off; it can have very serious risks. The impairment effects of alcohol on the body in high amounts can increase your risk for injuries due to accidents, including car crashes. The behavioral influence of alcohol can also increase incidents of violence, including sexual assault. Physically, binge drinking is associated with cognitive problems including memory and learning impairment long-term. Cancer risks can increase over time, and regular binge drinkers put themselves at risk for a whole host of other chronic diseases including liver and heart disease. In the short-term, heavy binge drinking can also put you at risk for alcohol poising and bouts of unconsciousness.
How do we avoid binge drinking? For some, abstinence may be the best choice. This is especially true for those that have had alcohol dependence, those that are underage, or for those with certain medical conditions or those prescribed medication that alcohol can interfere with. Others may wish to puruse low-risk drinking, which is generally considered to consist of no more than 3 drinks on any given day, totaling no more than 14 drinks in a week. A “drink” would be 12oz of beer with 5% alcohol content, or 1 oz. for most forms of liquor. Above all, be aware of how your drinking may be affecting, you. Low risk is not no risk, so taking precautions like safe transportation can make a big difference.
By: Jeffrey Meyers, ASAC Certified Prevention Specialist