Gym: tick, meditation: tick, healthy eating: tick and only the occasional glass of wine: tick. You keep up a consistent healthy routine during the week but when the weekend arrives, those healthy habits go out the window and you enjoy more than ‘just a few’. But that’s alright, you’ve been SO GOOD during the week! It’s only fair that you’re allowed to let your hair down, throw caution to the wind and line up a nights worth of vodka-lime-and-sodas, right?!
Binge drinking—that’s being an angel during the week and heading out to party on the weekend, consuming a lot of alcohol in a short space of time (typically, five or more drinks for a man and four or more drinks for a woman in the space of about 2 hours)—can have a serious impact on your physical AND mental health.
The short-term implications of binge drinking
Hangovers are less than ideal and we all know they impact our health. Sometimes the dance floor is calling, the champagne is flowing and it’s suddenly Sunday morning and everything hurts. But what actually happens to your body during a hangover?
Dehydration: Excess alcohol disrupts the production of vasopressin, the hormone that helps the body regulate our fluid balance. This leads you to repeatedly race for the bathroom on your night out and leaves your head in agony the next day.
Inflammation: That one, two, three, FOUR champagnes also upset your immune system and can trigger inflammation. Think sore head and sore tummy (and sometimes just plain sore all over). Dark liquors such as rum and whisky, beer and dark wines contain much higher levels of congeners (substance such amines, acetones, histamines and tannins) compared to clear liquors like vodka. These dark liquors contribute to worse hangovers. Side note: so too does smoking cigarettes.
Liver overload: Your liver is essentially your body’s washing machine. It’s our chief detoxing organ responsible for removing harmful substances such as bacteria, drugs, and alcohol from the blood stream. As effective as it is, our liver can only metabolise on average one alcoholic drink per hour. So if you drink a lot of alcohol during a short space of time on your night out, your liver is working overtime the next day to sort out your bad behaviour.
Reaching for a painkiller to ease that throbbing head? It pays to choose wisely. Paracetamol (commonly known as acetaminophen) can wreak havoc on your liver if you take it when you are intoxicated or hungover. Why? When your liver is already busy metabolising alcohol, it processes this particular painkiller differently than it otherwise would and starts to produce toxic by-products that can cause liver inflammation and kill liver cells. YIKES! In these situations, opt for aspirin or ibuprofen to ease your achy head along with a LOT of water.
Energy levels: Your exhaustion isn’t just from that 2 am bedtime. Alcohol also disturbs the brain’s normal sleep cycles leading it to favour your lighter phases of sleep instead of your deeper rejuvenating phase of sleep. This means that the little sleep you did get is not very restorative.
The long-term implications of regular binge drinking
Continued long term binge drinking can lead to issues including physical and psychological dependency on alcohol, significant damage to the brain and liver, increased risk of some forms of cancer, increased risk of neurological disorders and heart problems, increased risk of developing mood disorders such as depression and anxiety as well as problems with work and relationships.
As you can see, regular binge drinking has some pretty scary short and long-term effects on your health. To lower your risk and prevent that dreaded Sunday-day-of-pain, take measures to reduce your overall intake. Swap every second drink for water or soda to keep up your hydration levels and opt for clearer alcohols over dark options to reduce your congener load (lighter drinks are usually lower in calories too).
Better yet, schedule healthier social outings. You might not have heard but staying in is the new going out. Organise movie nights, picnics or throw an epic girls’ night in. Scheduling an active morning workout can also be a good, healthy social outing.
If you or someone you know needs help with binge-drinking, there are plenty of support services available in Australia. Reach out to your GP or contact one of the helplines listed here.