In my practice, I work with many young adults, and some older adults, who insist that they don’t have an alcohol problem despite binge drinking every weekend. There is a myth that in order to have a true issue with drinking, someone needs to drink alone, or in the morning, or every day.
It is true that for most people who are physically dependent on alcohol, drinking is far more frequent than on weekends. But there is a large group of individuals who drink so heavily on weekends that they certainly meet criteria for alcohol abuse, or problem drinking.
Binge Drinking Explained
Binge drinking is defined as drinking more than 4 drinks for a woman, and 5 for a man (the differences in criteria are due to average body weight and metabolism). There are many individuals that drink far more than this, at least one night of every weekend. When people only learn to socialize when they are binge drinking, it can be almost impossible to socialize when sober.
There is a great book on this topic, Smashed by Koren Zailckas. In this memoir, she describes how she would get drunk to socialize and to hook up with guys throughout all of college. Afterwards, when she quit drinking, she felt that she was stuck, emotionally, at a less mature age. She was stranded at the age that she had been before she started drinking.
When you drink in order to get along with people, you never learn how to interact with them in a sober, mature way. This is why many people feel awkward when trying to go on a date or meet new friends when they don’t feel buzzed, or outright drunk. Not to mention that drinking often masks depression, social anxiety, generalized anxiety, panic disorder, and more.
How Binge Drinking is Normalized
Many college students feel that “everyone” binge drinks on the weekends. This is not the case, although research shows that a not-negligible 26% of 18-24 year olds binge drink. Binge drinkers obviously spend their time with others who enjoy drinking, so their view on how many people really binge drink on weekends is necessarily distorted.
When people think “everyone” is doing something, or that drinking until you black out 2-3 times a weekend is a normal, socially condoned way to spend your time, then that can be used as a way to rationalize excessive, unhealthy drinking.
Most people know in their hearts when they are drinking excessively. It takes a physical and emotional toll on them. They may throw up, oversleep and miss work or classes, become belligerent and start fights with friends, strangers, or loved ones, and they may have run-ins with police.
They may not remember what they did over the course of the evening, which can sadly include things they would really want to recall, like their conversations or their sexual encounters with others. People can do or say things that they regret, and in the age of smartphones, they can drunk text embarrassing things that ruin relationships and make them feel humiliated. Unlike the drunk dials of a decade ago, drunk texts live on forever.
Recognizing When Help is Needed
Most people whose weekend drinking is out of control are ashamed of their behavior, and of feeling like they can’t get through weekend socializing without drinking to excess. There is nothing to be ashamed of. We live in a culture that makes jokes about binge drinking, but the reality is often not very funny at all.
If you recognize yourself or a loved one in this article, I encourage you to reach out for help. A therapist can help you figure out whether “just” drinking on the weekend is impacting your life negatively. You deserve to be living your best life, where you feel healthy and proud. The weekends are often 100% of your socializing time, and if you want authentic and genuine relationships with others, and to feel like your best self, figuring out how to drink moderately, or stop drinking entirely, is often a great place to start.