Q: What are the dangers of binge drinking?
A: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, excessive drinking causes more than 90,000 deaths in the U.S. each year—and accounts for 1 in 10 deaths among adults ages 20 to 64. While alcohol consumption on its surface isn’t necessarily a problem, too much alcohol can lead to a host of problems, both in the short and long-term.
In the short-term, overconsumption of alcohol can irritate the stomach lining and can enlarge blood vessels in the esophagus, which can rupture, leading to death. Intoxicated people can also suffer what’s called positional asphyxia, which occurs when a sleeping or unconscious person lies or slumps in such a way that their airway is obstructed, making it difficult or impossible to breathe.
More long-term, the liver can become scarred—leading to cirrhosis—or inflamed—leading to alcoholic hepatitis. Excessive drinking can inflame the pancreas, leading to a serious and painful condition, pancreatitis. In addition, the risk for oral, liver and esophageal cancer increases the longer alcohol is abused. Heavy drinkers also can experience memory loss, brain shrinkage and psychosis.
Those on depressant medicines need to be especially careful while drinking, as the combination of alcohol and sedatives can be lethal. Acute alcohol intoxication can cause respiratory failure and death if the blood-alcohol level exceeds a certain limit.
The use of alcohol during pregnancy may cause fetal alcohol syndrome. This can cause growth retardation and reduction in the mental functioning of the child.
Alcohol affects everyone differently and its impact depends on many factors such as age, health status, family history, and how frequently one drinks.
Gregory McDonald, DO is professor and chair of forensic medicine and pathology at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.