As part of out lifestyle change series 2009 on Battling Heart and Stroke, let’s touch once again on alcohol consumption, particularly binge drinking and its effect on your cardiovascular health. Binge drinking is the excessive consumption of alcohol. However, “excessive” is a subjective term. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking more specifically as
“as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. This typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks, and when women consume 4 or more drinks, in about 2 hours.”
NIAAA defines “a drink” as half an ounce of alcohol, which is equivalent to either of the following:
- one 12 oz. beer
- one 5 oz. glass of wine
- one1.5oz. shot of distilled spirits
Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center investigated the mechanisms that connect the dots between binge drinking and clogged arteries, and eventually atherosclerosis. It seems that the type of alcohol present in alcoholic drinks – called ethyl alcohol or ethanol – is converted by the body in acetaldehyde. When the levels of acetaldehyde in blood surge up due to binge drinking, the compound induces the immune cells monocytes to stick to the walls of the arteries, leading to inflammation and blockage of the blood vessels. The increase in monocyte adherence to the arterial walls due to binge drinking is estimated to be 700%!
People have some misconceptions about binge drinking that make them think this drinking pattern is OK. Some of these are:
- Binge drinking is not synonymous to alcoholism. It is usually practiced irregularly, not routinely and does not yet amount to alcohol dependence.
- Binge drinking is not the same as “risky drinking” which, according to the NIAAA has peak reaching “a peakBAC between.05grampercentand.08 grampercent.” It is also not the same as a “bender” which according to the NIAAA, refers to sustained heavy drinking for 2 or more days.
- Although binge drinking is always associated with college drinking, 70% of binge drinking cases actually involve people older than 25 years old, according to a national survey cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Many people think that binge drinking, if done on an irregular, short-term pattern, does not have long-term health consequences. This is, however, untrue, as many research studies have shown.
Aside from blocking arteries as described above, binge drinking is also linked to the following health problems:
- Unintentional injuries (e.g., car crashes, falls, burns, drowning).
- Intentional injuries (e.g., firearm injuries, sexual assault, domestic violence).
- Alcohol poisoning.
- Sexually transmitted diseases.
- Unintended pregnancy.
- Children born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.
- High blood pressure, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases.
- Liver disease.
- Neurological damage.
- Sexual dysfunction.
- Poor control of diabetes
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