There’s something about being young that makes you feel invincible and allows you to indulge in vices you know aren’t good for your health but subconsciously believing you’ll come away unscathed anyway.
But how much damage are we really doing by drinking that mid-week bottle of prosecco or spending the whole weekend in the pub nursing a bottle of red?
Because, let’s face it, as much as we like a drink we also really don’t fancy a future of alcohol-related health problems.
What counts as binge drinking?
For most of us binge drinking means teenagers and university students getting blackout drunk (and making big mistakes) rather than a few Thursday pints after work.
And while the NHS agrees - “binge drinking usually refers to drinking lots of alcohol in a short space of time or drinking to get drunk” - it doesn’t have to be a lot of alcohol to count as a binge.
In fact, the health service defines more than six units of alcohol in a single session as a binge. This figure is equivalent to drinking 2 to 3 standard glasses (175ml) of 13% strength wine or between 2 and 3 pints of 4% strength beer.
Doesn’t everyone drink that much?
When you start crunching the numbers we have to agree it does sound a little concerning, and quite honestly leaves us wondering how this doesn’t make everyone a binge drinker? Well, obviously not.
But there is a the perception in the UK that six units in one session isn’t a lot, and this misunderstanding helps contribute to 7.8 million people “binging” on alcohol during 2016, according to the Office for National Statistics.
And it is unfortunately drinkers aged 16 to 24 years who had the highest rates of binging with 37.3% having done so, compared to 10.3% of drinkers over 65.
I don’t feel like I’m drinking a lot
Even after being confronted with the facts, many of us still wouldn’t classify ourselves as binge drinkers or having a unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
But Dr Nick Sheron, a liver disease specialist from Southampton University, says those who “can’t conceive of a Friday night without having enough drinks to get a bit tipsy”,are actually already mildly dependent on alcohol.
And your blasé attitude might be because your tolerance has gone up over the years: “If you notice that your ‘tolerance’ to alcohol is rising it could be because your body has got used to consuming high volumes of alcohol and may be a sign that you are becoming dependent on alcohol,” says Dr John Larsen, director of evidence and impact at DrinkAware.
But what damage is this really doing to our bodies (apart from the hangover)?
This type of binge drinking carries a number of risks, both in the short term (those ones you are probably already familiar with) and longer term.
Dr Larsen says: “In the short term binge drinking will mean that you are more likely to suffer an injury or be involved in an accident. This is because alcohol affects your balance and co-ordination, and can lead you to misjudge risky situations. In extreme cases, you could die.
“Overdosing on alcohol can stop you breathing or stop your heart, or you could choke on your vomit. Binge drinking can affect your mood and your memory.’
Misell also highlights the longer term risks of this binge drinking: “The longer-term effects can include damage to various organs (such as the liver and the brain), conditions like depression and anxiety, and increased risk of some types of cancer.”
So is it better if we spread our units out or have them in one session?
Once you become aware how little it takes to become considered a “binge” it makes you reconsider how you are consuming alcohol and ask whether it would be better to spread out the consumption (say, one glass every evening) or save them up for one big night a week.
Andrew Misell, a director at Alcohol Concern says: “The chief medical officers (that is, the top doctors in Britain) recommend not drinking more than 14 units of alcohol – around five or six pints of beer, or just under one and a half bottles of wine - in any one week. And that you should spread those drinks out over the entire week.”
So, in short, the advice is very much against binge drinking on one single night.
Can any of this damage be reversed or is it too late?
After reading this, you might not be feeling too good about your drinking habits, but do not fear, some of the effects can be reversed. Although you’re not going to like the solution.
Misell says: “Some of the effects can be reversed but only by cutting back quite substantially on alcohol, or giving it up altogether.”
These alcohol-related problems don’t start to show immediately so you can be causing problems without even realising it. Also, alcohol affects you the same way at any age, so you can’t get away with simply cutting down later in life.
“The chances are your health will suffer,” summarises Misell.