Jun 24, 2015 2:00 PM

Author: Rachel Finlayson

It’s summertime. Time to take life a little easy, celebrate a friend’s graduation, maybe catch some live music and unwind with a drink or two. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere after all. For an increasing number of people, however, that one harmless drink leads to many more, especially in the summer. Binge drinking (defined as five or more drinks for men in about two hours and four or more for women) is on the rise across the nation. For youth under the age of 21, a whopping 90 percent of the alcohol consumed is in the form of binge drinks.

“Unfortunately, there’s a misconception that binging is ok and even preferable to moderate daily drinking,” says University of Utah Chief Medical Officer Tom Miller, MD “People think ‘I don’t drink that much, just on the weekends. Therefore I don’t have a problem.’ In reality, that’s not the case.” Studies show that binge drinking is far more damaging than daily, moderate drinking. “Sobriety during the week does not eliminate the need for balance on the weekend as well,” says Miller.

Genetically identical twin brothers, Chris and Alexander van Tulleken, of the United Kingdom recently set out to find out for themselves what happens if two people consume the same amount of alcohol every week but one drinks it all in a single binge. For one month, while Chris drank his portion throughout the week, Alexander was required to binge on Saturdays. They chronicled their extreme drinking research in a BBC documentary titled: Is Binge Drinking Really that Bad?

Turns out the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” The results were “horrific,” according to Alexander when he spoke to UK’s The Daily Mirror. At the end of the month, he discovered “I'd caused widespread and serious damage to my entire body….my blood was being poisoned by bacteria that had leaked from my gut." Alexander hoped that his binge consumption would give his body a chance to “rest” during the week and offset the negative effects, but that didn’t happen. At the end of the experiment, he had three times the amount of bacteria leaking into his bloodstream as his brother Chris, the daily drinker.

On a personal level, binge drinking is clearly harsh on the human body and takes a heavy toll. As a nation, excess drinking cost taxpayers $223.5 billion from losses in productivity, health care, crime, and other expenses, according to a 2006 study.

So how do you know if your “moderate” drinking habits are becoming dangerously close to alcoholism? Miller shares a popular screening test, known by the acronym CAGE, to help you figure it out:

  1. Have you ever felt you needed to Cut down on your drinking?
  2. Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  3. Have you ever felt Guilty about drinking?
  4. Have you ever felt you needed a drink first thing in the morning (Eye-opener) to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?

Saying yes to two or more of these merits a follow-up conversation with your doctor. Says Miller, “Answering yes doesn’t necessarily mean you are an alcoholic, but it highlights a need for some more information. A more in depth conversation about risks and amounts of drinking will provide a better picture of how to move forward.”

(More information on health and alcohol abuse can be found at:http://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/healthtopics.html, and http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/)

Students who think they or a friend have a problem can visit their school’s student health center, where counseling and treatment are often available.

There are many resources for coping with problems with alcohol. But as the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Keep in mind what is too much for one evening, an eye out for the CAGE symptoms, and you enjoy your summer.

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