How Does Binge Drinking Affect Your Brain?


In the U.S., an estimated 1 in 6 adults binge drinks four times per month with an average of 8 drinks per session. Binge drinking is most common among young adults. Almost half of college students report binge drinking at least once per week.

Binge drinking refers to a pattern of drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time with the intention of getting intoxicated. According to the NIAAA, this means 4 drinks in two hours for women and five drinks in two hours for men. This usually brings the BAC or blood alcohol concentration at 0.08%.

The liver processes about 90% of the alcohol you consume. If you’re an average-sized person, your liver can break down one standard drink per hour. If you drink any faster than this, your BAC will increase, and you will become intoxicated. Of course, other factors such as sex, age, ethnicity, and how recently you’ve eaten also play a part.

If you are under the age of 25 and you binge drink once every week, your brain may show some deficits as a result. Although most of the brain develops early in life, some regions continue to develop until you are 25 years old, and those are the regions that are most affected by binge drinking. According to research, your pattern of heavy episodic drinking may affect your working memory and your ability to focus.

Binge Drinking and Heavy Drinking

According to the CDC, most binge drinkers do not show symptoms of having a severe alcohol disorder. However, about a quarter of people who drink more than the recommended guidelines will develop problems related to alcohol. In contrast, only 2 % of those who don’t surpass the guidelines get diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder.

What are the guidelines? For men, it’s up to four drinks in a day and a maximum of 14 in a week. For women, it’s up to three drinks in a day and a maximum of 7 in a week. If you don’t drink more than the amounts mentioned in the guidelines, you are considered “low-risk.” According to data from the NIAAA, 37% of U.S. drinkers are low risk, 35% don’t drink at all, while 28% drink heavily.

But what does drinking heavily mean? Heavy drinking is defined as drinking above the recommended guidelines, so more than 14 drinks in a week for men and 7 for women. If you frequently binge drink, especially as a way of coping with uncomfortable feelings, you are at a higher risk of developing an addiction to alcohol.

Moreover, if you have tried to stop the behavior, but when you go out you drink more than you had planned and you engage in behavior you later regret, you might want to consider speaking to a dedicated treatment provider from a credentialed treatment center such as Malibu Rehab.

Effects on the Brain

High-resolution brain scans have shown that binge drinking results in noticeable changes in the brain structure. It affects the prefrontal cortex, which impacts cognition, emotional regulation, and social functioning.

If you start binge drinking before the age of 15, research has found that it impacts decision-making about as much as having an alcohol use disorder. This is because, as we mentioned before, the brain is still developing at this age, so it’s more vulnerable to alcohol damage.

A study done on binge drinkers between the ages of 18 and 20 found that they had difficulties distinguishing relevant from irrelevant stimuli. They needed more attentional processing during tasks, and their brains were less efficient when distributing working memory resources.

In addition, since binge drinking at this age affects emotional regulation, it can result in more frequent negative moods, making you more vulnerable to depression.