The Chaser: How College Binge Drinking Can Affect Your Health for Years to Come

The Chaser: How College Binge Drinking Can Affect Your Health for Years to Come

The Princeton Review recently listed the top party schools for the 2016-17 school year, and three Midwest universities made the top ten. The University of Iowa ranked #6, while the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign landed at #3 and the University of Wisconsin-Madison topped the list at #1.  Whether or not you attended one of these schools, you may have done your fair share of partying and binge drinking during your college years. Sean Miran, D.O., UnityPoint Health, explains how binge drinking can impact your health in the short term and for years to come.

Consequences of Binge Drinking

According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), one in every six adults in the United States binge drinks, with eight drinks being the average number consumed by binge drinkers.

“Binge drinking is most commonly defined in the U.S. as drinking more than four drinks (for women) or five drinks (for men) in two hours or less, with the intent of becoming intoxicated,” Dr. Miran says. “A simpler definition is drinking a lot of alcohol in a short period of time or drinking with the intent of getting drunk.”

Dr. Miran also notes that short-term consequences may go hand-in-hand with each drink consumed, such as:

  • Alcohol poisoning (which can be fatal)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Unintentional injuries
  • Unplanned sex, unprotected sex, unplanned pregnancies and an increased risk of HIV infection
  • Increased risk of antisocial, violent or aggressive behavior and suicide

In addition, binge drinking can also lead to “blackouts,” where individuals struggle to recall what happened during a certain period of time.

“During an alcohol-induced blackout, the brain loses the ability to move memories from short-term storage to long-term storage. In this situation, a person retains the ability to function, but cannot later remember clearly the events that happened, while the cementing of memories was suppressed by alcohol,” Dr. Miran says.

The short-term effects of binge drinking might seem like a nasty hangover and nothing more, but Dr. Miran explains how partying in your younger years can follow you further into adulthood.

“Long-term consequences of binge drinking can include strokes, heart attacks, relationship problems, cirrhosis, liver cancer, neurological damage, depression and anxiety. If you’re concerned about the consequences of the partying you did in college, lab tests and neuropsychological assessments are the best way to determine what health affects you may face as you continue to age,” Dr. Miran says.

He suggests following the recommended alcoholic drinks per day, especially to maintain long-term health.

“The recommend amount of alcohol consumption for college-aged men is no more than 14 drinks per week and no more than four drinks in one day. Women should have no more than seven drinks per week, with no more than three in one day. However, there is research that shows the safest level for both men and women, long-term, is less than seven drinks per week and no more than two alcoholic beverages on any one day,” Dr. Miran says.

In some cases, it may be best to go without alcohol altogether.

“It is also safest to avoid alcohol if you are taking medications that can interact with alcohol, managing a medical condition that can be made worse by alcohol, underage, planning on operating a motor vehicle or machinery, pregnant, trying to become pregnant or have a family history of mental illness or substance abuse.”

Alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation safely, but Dr. Miran also says it’s important to be aware of alcohol abuse signs, such as if you or family members and friends are still consuming alcohol in large amounts.

“A person can determine if someone is abusing alcohol primarily by evaluating if alcohol is causing negative, unintended consequences to relationships, physical or mental health or job or school performance,” Dr. Miran says.


If you or someone you know if struggling with substance abuse, UnityPoint Health is here to help. Contact your UnityPoint Health provider to schedule an appointment.

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