Definition of binge drinking has its limits

A Regina man believes most people are binge drinkers if you accept the medical definition of a "binge."

"Binge drinking is defined by a number of different sources as consuming five or more drinks for males and four or more for females on one occasion," said Marta England, supervisor of the Alcohol and Drug Education and Prevention Directorate with the Ministry of Health.

The sources include the Canadian Medical Association, a Canadian Addiction Survey and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

The definition astounds Kyle Wylie.

"If I'm going out with some friends for dinner and then maybe we go to a sit-down pub, we'll probably have five drinks in the span of five hours, so is that a binge drinker? By this definition yes, but I wouldn't consider it that way," said the 23-year-old.

Wylie believes a binge drinker is someone who drinks so much that he or she can't make responsible decisions.

"There are females who can drink five or six drinks and be reasonable and there are guys who can drink two or three drinks and be totally unreasonable," he said. "I was a binge drinker most of high school and a lot of my friends and a lot of the people who were in my high school would definitely say they were binge drinkers too -- by my definition, drinking until you're out of control."

Polling was done in 2006 to determine the consumption levels of young Saskatchewan adults so that educational campaigns about the dangers of binge drinking could be tailored for them.

"The campaigns that we've done have focused on the 18- to 29-year-olds who tend to have the heaviest consumption," England said. "Nearly 30 per cent said they had consumed more than five drinks on at least one occasion and 40.5 per cent said they'd consumed more than 10 drinks on at least one occasion in the past 12 months."

Wylie doesn't dispute the statistics.

"In high school, you'd show up with a 12-pack, not a six-pack -- those statistics are very bang on," he said.

England said binge drinking isn't just a problem in Saskatchewan but across the country and world. Since alcohol is a legal drug that's socially acceptable, drinking seems to go hand in hand with celebrations, but that comes at a cost, she said.

According to the Ministry of Health, alcohol use costs Saskatchewan $508.7 million in lost productivity, absenteeism and disability.

"These are some things that we've got to think about -- is it OK for it to be a rite of passage or is it too costly to be a rite of passage?" England questioned.

While the public has received education about the harms associated with drinking and driving, she said many are unaware of the dangers associated with binge drinking.

"There's all sorts of assaults and fights that happen, unplanned, unprotected or unwanted sexual relations, sexually transmitted infections as well as the more long-term physical harms such as memory loss," she said. "Those are some of the harms that we talk to young people about."

Drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time is more harmful to brain cells than any other pattern of drinking.

"Young people still have that infallible sense that 'it won't happen to me,' so we have to go beyond that and have some community and provincial policies in place that reinforce them to make better decisions," England said. "One thing that we did last year and that we're planning for this year again is to get information into Welcome Week packages and orientation packages at the post-secondary institutions."

She said students want to know about the hazards but don't want to be told what to do.

"We talk about alternative kinds of activities that people can be involved in with both younger youth and the post-secondary youth but some of them have indicated that non-alcoholic sponsorship of events is very hard to come by," England said. "It takes a lot of partners and a lot of different approaches to take a look at binge drinking."

Wylie agrees youths will be turned off by a preachy approach and suggests that young adults whose drinking has caused problems should share their experiences with students.

He drastically cut back on his drinking after he suffered blackouts.

"There's a point where you say, 'Wow, why did I do that?' or you wake up in the morning and you say, 'What did I do?' That made me realize that I had to make a change," he said.

Binge Drinking in Saskatchewan

Of 499 young Saskatchewan adults between the ages of
18 and 29 years who were surveyed in 2006 . . .

42% said they drank more than they intended at least once in the past 12 months.

27% said that, on at least one occasion, they couldn't remember events of the previous night due to drinking.

30% reported they had consumed more than five drinks on at least
one occasion.

15% said their drinking had resulted in someone being physically
injured during the past year.

© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2008