Study Guide
Binge Drinking: Causes and Consequences

Binge Drinking - Answers to FAQ

  • What are some of the negative consequences of binge drinking?
    Students who engage in binge drinking are more likely to engage in a variety of impulsive risky behaviors (e.g., drunk driving, unplanned sexual activity, vandalism) and are at an increased risk for poor academic performance, alcohol dependence, and death. The statistics on the prevalence of these negative consequences are staggering (see for statistics on the prevalence of these consequences). [Extended Answer]

  • What are some of the attitudes or beliefs that contribute to binge drinking?
    Students who engage in binge drinking are more likely to overestimate the positive effects of alcohol and underestimate the likelihood of experiencing negative consequences. Students who binge drink are also likely to overestimate the amount that "normal" college students drink and to place responsibility for their drinking behavior on external factors (e.g., there is nothing else to do, it is expected that you drink in college) (Bishop, 2000; Norman et al., 1998; Turrisi et al., 2000) [Extended Answer]

  • What are the main effects of alcohol on the brain?
    Alcohol is both a stimulant and a depressant of nervous system physiology. The stimulant effects include: initial peak in energy, initial peak in metabolism, and activation of the sympathetic nervous system (increasing heart rate, respiratory volume, and dampening pain). The depressant effects include: sedation, disinhibition, anesthesia, cognitive decline, loss of memory, hypnosis/"passing out" , and poor sexual performance.

    Alcohol catalyzes these effects on physiology by binding to two neurotransmitter receptors in the brain: (1) glutamate receptors and (2) GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors. Because these receptors are ubiquitous in the central nervous system, alcohol effectively targets ALL areas of the brain. Additionally, these receptors are the main excitatory (glutamate) and inhibitory (GABA) receptors of the central nervous system, thus explaining the ability of alcohol to act simultaneously as both a stimulant and a depressant.

    Very recent evidence has demonstrated that ethanol also targets serotonin receptors; this may be why SSRIs (such as Prozac , Celexa, Zoloft ) have been used successfully in cessation therapy. This may also explain the profound emotional disturbances that can sometimes result from chronic ethanol administration.

  • What are the long term effects of alcohol on the brain?
    Because of the dual excitatory and inhibitory properties of alcohol, long-term effects include both excitatory dysregulations (neurotoxicity, seizures) and inhibitory dysregulations (coma, permanent memory impairment, lack of pleasure, depression, death). Long term effects also include the collective symptoms of delirium tremens : confusion and disorientation, hallucinations, psychomotor disturbances, sleep dysregulation, and anxiety. These symptoms are commonly seen in individuals who have abused alcohol throughout their adult lives. Finally, Korsakoff's Psychosis, a profound form of dementia characterized by excessive confabulation and inability to consolidate new information is associated with long-term alcoholism. It is also important to note that chronic excessive alcohol use wreaks havoc on the liver.

    It has been commonly reported that light to moderate doses of alcohol have been shown to prevent ischemic strokes (~ 2 drinks per day). It is worth mentioning that this effect is abolished with high doses (~ 5 drinks per day).

  • Is alcohol addictive?
    Yes. Traditionally, a drug is addictive if (1) given the choice, animals will self-administer it and (2) in the absence of the drug after chronic administration, animals show signs of both tolerance and withdrawal. Alcohol meets both of these criteria.

    We know that some individuals are prone to strong cravings for alcohol, but interestingly, almost all users of alcohol have experienced tolerance (needing more alcohol to reach the same level of intoxication) and withdrawal (commonly felt as a hangover - this is why drinking more alcohol is the most effective remedy). These properties do not require large doses or long treatment regimens to emerge - they can occur within a few drinks.

  • What effect does the environment in which you consume alcohol have on its addictive properties?
    Environment affects alcohol enormously. Part of the effect of alcohol is contextual. A person may develop some tolerance to alcohol in one location (e.g., Muhlenberg College), but find that tolerance diminished when drinking in a novel location (e.g., Cancun). Thus, drinking a "usual" amount of alcohol in a novel environment may result in increased intoxication. This is thought to be the basis of many drug overdoses.

    Both alcohol itself AND alcohol-related cues (the physical environment of the bar, cigarette smoking, the bottles of alcohol themselves) can activate an area of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens. This region of the brain has been implicated in appetitive behavior and the feelings of pleasure that accompany reinforcing stimuli. Thus, the environment in which alcohol is consumed and the paraphernalia associated with consuming alcohol can also elicit pleasure and craving. This has profound implications for individuals who want to reduce their alcohol consumption - they will need to not only avoid the drug but also the environment in which the drug was taken; this is obviously a challenge for a small college like Muhlenberg.

  • How can you overdose from drinking alcohol?
    The main causes of alcohol overdose are: (1) mixing alcohol with other drugs; (2) extreme intoxication leading to coma and death; and (3) environmental effects of drinking in a novel environment (see above). Bear in mind that this only reflects the immediate dangers of alcohol - chronic administration has enormously deleterious effects on performance, physiology, cognition, and behavior (see above).

    The most lethal drugs (when combined with alcohol) are

    . depressants (e.g., Valium , Rohypnol , Xanax , Ambien , Ativan , phenobarbitol),

    . opioids and opiates (e.g., morphine, heroin, codeine)

    . over the counter antihistamines

    However, most drugs (including birth control pills) are likely to affect alcohol absorption, distribution, and elimination at some level, and may also potentiate its effects.

    It is extremely important to remember that alcohol absorption (from the stomach) continues long after a person stops drinking. Many people think that when someone stops drinking and has passed out that they will not become more intoxicated - but this is downright wrong. Most people who die from alcohol intoxication do so several hours after they pass out (while their blood alcohol content continues to rise). As such, it is important to never leave a person who has passed out unattended or assume that they will sleep off their intoxication.

  • Why do men and women differ in their sensitivity to alcohol?
    Alcohol produces intoxication by affecting neurons in your brain. However, it is almost always consumed orally. Thus, alcohol has to be emptied by your stomach into your small intestine, whereupon it is absorbed into your blood and carried throughout your body. If you think of your body as a series of connected containers, it is easy to see how body size can effect level of intoxication. If your brain is one container, and the rest of your body is another container, having a larger body will result in your having less alcohol available to your brain. This is one of the major reasons why women (who are on average smaller than men) get drunker then men after consuming similar amounts of alcohol; more of the alcohol is available to their brain. A second factor is muscle mass; since muscle is highly perfused by blood, having more muscle results in more alcohol staying in your 'body container', resulting in less available for the brain. Since women typically have higher percentage of body fat than men, a woman is once again more likely to get more intoxicated than a similarly weighted man.

    Other factors that effect how intoxicated you get include genetic influences, as well as the degree of tolerance (physiological and environmental) you may have built up due to past consumption.

  • On average, how many drinks (one drink equals - 12oz. beer, 4oz. wine, 1oz. shot) can an individual consume in one hour and still remain within a relatively safe blood alcohol concentration (BAC) zone?
    A 180 lb man can consume 3 drinks and a 130 lb woman can consume 2 drinks. [Extended Answer]

  • Does alcohol advertising and promotion increase alcohol consumption?
    No. Research suggests that advertising and promotion contributes to brand loyalty and brand awareness among youth. [Extended Answer]

  • If alcohol advertising does not necessarily increase consumption, why are scholars concerned about youth's exposure to ads?
    Examinations of advertisements have found that drinking is presented as a harmless activity with no major health risks associated with it. [Extended Answer]

  • How does the media represent alcohol consumption?
    Statistics reveal that alcohol is the most frequently portrayed food or drink on network television programming; for example, viewers see alcohol use every 14 minutes on MTV, compared to every 17 minutes in films, and every 27 minutes on prime-time television. [Extended Answer]

  • What is the basic premise of alcohol advertising ?
    Advertisements typically emphasize that it is okay to drink alcohol in moderation and that consumers need to "know when to say when."

    What are some of the common myths alcohol advertisers have integrated into their campaigns?

    • Drinking is a risk free activity .
    • Light beer is less filling, and therefore one can drink more.
    • Problem drinking behaviors are normal .
    • Alcohol is a magic potion that can transform you .
    • Sports and alcohol go together.
    • If alcohol were truly dangerous, we wouldn't be advertising it

    Videos in Trexler Library collection that address images of alcohol in media:

    • Advertising and the end of the world
    • On television: The violence factor
    • Spin the bottles: Sex, lies and alcohol
    • Still killing us softly: Advertising's images of women
    [Extended Answer]