How to Reduce Binge Drinking: Strategies for Big Parties or a Night In

The phrase “binge drinking” may conjure up images of college students chugging out of red plastic cups filled to the brim with beer or spring breakers downing round after round of tequila shots. While binge drinking is indeed most common among younger adults, they are hardly alone in their excessive alcohol consumption in short periods of time: One in six Americans binge drinks four times a month, and more than half of the 17.5 billion binge drinks consumed by adults annually is attributed to those 35 and older.

Binge drinking increased 8.9% across the United States between 2005 and 2012, according to a study published in the American Journal for Public HealthJohn Clapp, interim dean and a professor at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, says that the public needs to pay attention to the notable changes in who is engaging in this unhealthy behavior.

“We have seen a rise of binge drinking behavior among adults in their 40s, 50s and 60s,” Clapp said. “And with young adults, the amount of alcohol they consume during binge drinking events has increased drastically. It is not uncommon to find college students having BACs (blood alcohol concentration) consistent with 12 or more drinks.”  

Binge alcohol use among young adults does not vary greatly between genders, with men out drinking women by only about 3%. However, a more than 10 point gap exists between men and women ages 26 or older. 

Go to a tabular version of data at the bottom of the page to view the differences in the percentages of men and women who engaged in binge drinking in the past month.  

What can be done to address what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes as the “most common, costly, and deadly pattern of excessive alcohol use” in the United States? Understanding what qualifies as binge drinking and how to monitor drinking habits can help prevent people from overindulging.

The Difference Between Binge Drinking and Alcohol Use Disorders

Although binge drinking can be a risk factor for an alcohol use disorder, Clapp says that it’s important to understand both unhealthy behaviors independently of each other.

is a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after four drinks for women and five drinks for men within approximately two hours.

Harmful outcomes:

violence; sexual assault; injury due to car accidents, falls and burns; fetal alcohol spectrum disorders; various cancers; and chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke and liver disease.

is a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational or health consequences. To be diagnosed with AUD, individuals must meet criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Harmful outcomes:

cirrhosis, liver failure, various cancers, nerve damage, respiratory infections, mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, decreased productivity, financial problems, unemployment and strained interpersonal relationships.

While most research and literature has focused on chronic alcohol misuse, binge drinking often results in just as many, if not more, deadly consequences. Researchers examined the contribution of excessive alcohol consumption to deaths in the United States and found about 88,000 annual deaths were alcohol related. Approximately 56% of those were related to acute conditions or drinking to excess during a short period of time; top causes included crashes, suicide, homicide, poisoning and falls.

Clapp, who specializes in research on alcohol use, says that understanding drinking events is critical to preventing these incidents. He collaborated with a group of engineers and researchers to create a new dynamic model of drinking events to examine the interplay of social and environmental factors that influence one’s likelihood to binge drink.

This model specifically looks at the interplay between the following factors:

Blood alcohol concentration:
the percent of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream and the effect of metabolism. 

Group wetness:
the desired BAC and average BAC of an individual’s drinking companions, as well as the influence of those companions. 

Desired state of intoxication:
a mix of drinking motivations and perceptions of intoxication. 

Environmental wetness:
the overall BAC of people in the environment, as well as the availability and access to alcohol.

How to Curb Binge Drinking

When it comes to binge drinking, Clapp says social factors play a significant role in whether a person will drink to excess. 

“When people go out with the intention of drinking with other like-minded people, the likelihood of drinking more heavily and drinking across an extended period of time increases significantly,” he said.

With the help of professor Clapp, MSW@USC has compiled a list of strategies that event organizers, partygoers and even a person imbibing at home can implement to moderate their drinking. 

Strategies for Event Organizers to Reduce Binge Drinking

To prevent your attendees from binge drinking, make sure that alcohol is not central to the event.

  • Establish one or two areas where people are served beverages.
  • Ensure servers have Responsible Beverage Service training.
  • Provide a limited quantity of alcohol.
  • Offer alternative beverages.
  • Implement a regulated system of providing beverages, like drink tickets.
  • Establish a set window of time during which attendees can drink.
  • Do not host BYOB (bring your own bottle) events.

Strategies for Partygoers to Reduce Binge Drinking

People often have misperceptions of how intoxicated they are. Self-regulation and mindfulness are the best ways to reduce risk.

  • Slow the pace of drinking.
  • Determine the amount of time or number of drinks you will drink ahead of time.
  • Be mindful of the alcohol content in the drinks you consume. 
  • Limit the size of drinks.
  • Have a full glass of water between each drink.
  • Make sure to eat before drinking. 

Strategies for Individuals to Reduce Binge Drinking

Sometimes simple strategies like thinking through self-reflective questions can help to adjust behaviors. Questions to ask yourself before you start drinking at events, at meals or at home include:

  • What do I need to accomplish tomorrow?
  • What responsibilities do I have?
  • How much did I drink last time I consumed alcohol, and how did I feel after?
  • How can I remain safe and feel my best?
  • When do I need to go home/go to bed to be productive tomorrow?
  • How am I getting home tonight?
  • How much money do I want to spend?
  • Am I going into an environment where most people will be drinking?
  • Will other people expect/encourage me to drink heavily?
  • How can I communicate my intentions to limit my drinking?

Note: This article has been published for informational purposes only and does not represent a medical opinion. If you or a loved one are exhibiting signs of an alcohol use disorder, you should consult with your physician who may refer you to the appropriate professional medical or psychological treatment.

The following section includes tabular data from the graphic in this post.

Percentage of People Who Engaged in Binge Alcohol Use in the Past Month (2017)

26 or older

Source: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. “2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, April 29, 2019.

Citation for this content: The MSW@USC, the online Master of Social Work program at the University of Southern California.