Page last updated: Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Binge Drinking: Causes, Consequences and Cures
Alcohol use and misuse is as old as man (alcohol having been drunk in Mesopotamia 5000 year ago), with clear associations with celebrations and pleasure, which in part explains its popularity. However concern over binge drinking in young people is growing and overall alcohol consumption appears to be increasing in some sectors of the population in many countries with associated problems.

In Binge Drinking: Causes, Consequences and Cures, Adrian Furnham defines Binge drinking as the consumption of a large quantity of alcohol in a short space of time. The study finds binge drinking becomes especially problematic when associated with criminal, licentious or risky activities and may also be associated with illegal drug taking. Social costs associated with excessive drinking range from driving accidents to absenteeism from work as well as opportunistic, and violent crime. There is considerable disagreement among researchers as to what constitutes binge drinking and it quantitative and qualitative definitions (for some it is 5 drinks per session for others it is 8.)

In the report, Adrian Furnham, the author, explores factors that influence young people in Western, developed countries to use and abuse alcohol. The cultural, historical and sociological factors that shape a nations patterns are examined. Research clearly shows that there are cultural and national forces that lead to significantly different drinking patterns in different countries. Southern Europeans may consume as much if not more alcohol than Northern Europeans but they have healthier patterns of drinking. In Britain it is estimated that 6.4 million people can be classified as a moderate to heavy drinker and a further 1.8 million people heavy drinkers. Britain is pretty well in the European average for consumption (Luxembourg, Ireland and Portugal being highest, Finland and Sweden being lowest). Alcohol consumption was shown to be multi-determined by cultural, economic, legal, sociological and psychological factors and alcohol consumption is as much a consequence of theses factors as a cause.

The report also takes a psychological approach in attempting to understand what turns a young person into a non-drinker or a modest, moderate, heavy, secretive or abusive drinker. Alcohol dependence and abuse are among the most prevalent mental disorders in the general public according to the study. A community study conducted in the US between 1980-1985 using DSM-III criteria found that about 8% of the adult population had Alcohol Dependence and about 5% abused alcohol at some time in their lives.

The report also looked at how social norms, national customs and legal regulation attempt to specify who can and cannot drink alcohol, where and when. Countries who believed in draconian legislation are now turning too much more liberal policies to encourage healthy drinking. A particular focus of the study looks at attempts to control unhealthy drinking and specifically how to prevent it, with recent research on binge drinking being reviewed. Two clear findings came from the various studies, the first being that unhealthy drinking is caused by a multitude of different factors (personal, social, cultural and economic) that interact to produce individual and national drinking habits.

The second finding being that efforts to reduce, regulate and control alcohol intake by governments often ignores the complexities of the issues and attempts to reduce misuse by increasing taxation, limiting licensing or banning advertising can have unanticipated and paradoxical effects, sometimes having the opposite effect to that intended.

Cultural tradition, much more than advertising, alcohol pricing and availability were predictors of consumption (what is consumed, where and by whom). Therefore the alcohol industry: brewers, distillers and vintners have a role to play in the education and supply to young people.

The report concluded that prevention and cure through education in schools, home and college clearly helped young people understand what it means to drink well and derive pleasure and benefit from drinking. The most powerful agent in determining young drinkers habits was shown to be parents, teachers and other role figures that discuss and model drinking patterns. Those primarily responsible for sensible drinking are first and foremost the young people, their friends and parents. For a copy of this study, Please contact

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All text and images © 2003 Alcohol In Moderation.