Love to Binge Drink? It’s Even More Dangerous Than You Think

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Getting hammered — for many guys, it’s a part of the weekly routine. It might be your favorite Friday night activity. Or what you do while watching college football on Saturdays, and then again on NFL Sundays. Perhaps it’s merely a byproduct and response to pressures at work and at home? Either way, it can be a fun, albeit destructive, way to wind down.

The issue, of course, is that drinking — binge drinking, especially — does some significant damage. In addition to running the risk of making poor social decisions, alcohol consumption has some very serious physiological effects on our bodies. Though most of us are aware of that fact, the damage isn’t typically enough to have a severe impact to convince us not to drink, or to drink less. It’s difficult to give it up, especially given how interwoven the social act of drinking is in our lives.

But as the research mounts, it’s becoming ever more clear that toning down the frequency, or finding an alternative, is in our best interests if we plan on living long, healthy, productive lives. The most recent evidence comes way of the University of Missouri School of Medicine, where researchers have found that alcohol consumption in mice — of the binge variety, notably — is way worse than originally thought.

“Heavy binge drinking by those who habitually consume alcohol is the most common cause of liver damage in chronic alcoholic liver disease,” said the study’s lead author Shivendra Shukla, Ph.D., the Margaret Proctor Mulligan Professor of medical pharmacology and physiology at the MU School of Medicine.

“We know that this behavior causes large fatty deposits in the liver that ultimately impair the organ’s ability to function properly. However, we wanted to understand the mechanism that causes this damage and the extent of the harm. Our research focused on different forms of alcohol abuse and the results of those behaviors.”

We already knew that drinking damaged the liver, but what the study found in relation to “binge” behavior in mice is what was truly eyebrow-raising.

“In the mice exposed to both chronic use and repeat binge episodes, liver damage increased tremendously. Even more shocking was the extent of fatty deposits in the livers of those exposed to chronic plus binge alcohol. It was approximately 13 times higher than the control group.”

So, if this study is any indication, excess alcohol consumption could do up to 13 times more damage to your liver than “average.” Of course, these were mice that we’re talking about, so there are some things to take into account. Either way, it’s a fairly worrisome finding, especially if you or a loved one is prone to overindulging.

The other reason this study is a pretty big deal is because binge drinking is fairly widespread among Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “One in six U.S. adults binge drinks about four times a month, consuming about eight drinks per binge.” More than that, these problems come with a pretty substantial cost.

“Drinking too much, including binge drinking, cost the United States $249 billion in 2010, or $2.05 a drink, from losses in productivity, health care, crime, and other expenses,” the CDC says. “Binge drinking was responsible for 77% of these costs, or $191 billion.”

What does this mean for you? Well, you can take from it what you want. Most people are already aware that they may not be acting in their own best interests when tossing a few back. But that’s their own choice to make. The issue is that the effects and costs compound, and ripple across all of society. Even if you yourself don’t drink, or drink to excess, you end up paying for it by way of increased health care costs, law enforcement costs, or even through losing a loved one via disease or an accident.

Again — nobody is saying you should stop drinking, but maybe put some more thought into your behaviors come Friday night. Or keep a tally of how many you’ve had at the weekly tailgate. It can go a long way toward maintaining your health and helping to avoid unpleasant fallout resulting from overindulgence.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger

More from Health & Fitness Cheat Sheet: