From Binge to Extreme Drinking

Most in the substance abuse prevention field are familiar with the term "binge drinking". Defined by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), binge drinking is a minimum of 4 drinks for women or 5 drinks for men per occasion.

However, in more recent years, the term "extreme drinking" has been used to describe the drinking habits of some high school and college-aged youth. Extreme drinking goes way beyond the minimum threshold for binge drinking, notes Dr. Aaron White from Duke University Medical Center. He adds that extreme drinking doubles or even triples the usual minimum amounts of binge drinking we are familiar with.

Experts are also currently working to determine whether this type of extreme drinking, also referred to as heavy episodic binge drinking, is a kind of alcoholism.

"We think of alcoholism as chronic drunken behaviour," says Thomas Brown, an addictions specialist and professor at McGill University's Faculty of Medicine. "But the idea of this sporadic, very heavy drinking is something we're becoming increasingly concerned about".

The Addiction Services of Nova Scotia have found extreme drinking a problem area with those ages 19-29. They define extreme drinking as drinking more than your body can handle, which can put you at risk of passing out, memory loss, impaired judgment, blackouts, vomiting, injury, and alcohol overdose. With the tagline: The amount of alcohol it takes for you to pass out is dangerously close to the amount it takes to kill you, the Addiction Services of Nova Scotia released a marketing and educational campaign touting the dangers of extreme drinking along with suggested safety strategies.

In conjunction with the amount of alcohol consumed, the type of party, and who is in attendance will affect the amount of booze a person drinks. Researchers from the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland showed that students who attended a party where alcohol was available were more likely to report getting drunk than those attending parties where alcohol was not available (10.5% vs. 0.5%). Other party factors related to being drunk included the size of the party (larger parties), the location of the party (tailgating, fraternity house, off-campus near the university), and the number of friends the student attended the party with (larger number of friends).

It should be noted here that extreme and binge drinking isn’t just for the male population anymore. Past thinking generally held young males at a greater risk of binge drinking than females, however reports from CAMH (2007) have shown that there is no significant difference between males and females in regards to binge drinking (27%; 25%); drunkenness (25%; 24%); or hazardous drinking (19%; 18%).

Similarly, acording to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, four in 10 women ages 18 and 19 consume five or more alcoholic beverages in a typical drinking session, compared to about five in 10 men of the same age. Among females aged 15 to 24, one in 10 engages in weekly binge boozing versus about two in 10 males in that same demographic.

"We're encouraging girls to make their mark in what was traditionally seen as more male-specific behavioural patterns, including heavy drinking," says Thomas Brown of McGill University.

As the 2008-2009 school year is now upon us, it would be a good time for schools to look at their policies in regards to alcohol availability and discipline related to misuse, along with how prevention efforts are geared towards their female population. Policy-makers in schools need to implement decisions to deter excessive drinking through rules or policies. This can be accomplished, in part, through:

* repeated mandatory educational sessions on alcohol during school orientation in both secondary and undergraduate schooling;
* mandated server training in university-run pubs;
* health and safety training of Residence Leaders and Campus Security;
* curbing campus alcohol advertising;

along with implementing and advertising policies related to alcohol control, where to go for help, and how violations to the policy will be enforced.

Over the summer months, Alberta invoked minimum alcoholic beverage prices at bars in an effort to curb consumption by drinkers. The new rules follow similar anti-binge-drinking legislation in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and act as a good start in how governments can address the issue.
source: Alcohol Policy Network,