What exactly is a binge? (citations)

Binge drinking is, in the words of one alcohol scholar, “the consumption of large-enough amounts of alcohol in short-enough periods of time to put the drinker and others at risk.”1 Historically, a binge was depicted as a weekend-long episode of heavy drinking that left the drinker unable to perform their usual obligations. More recent interpretations of binge drinking connote night-long episodes of severe intoxication rendering the drinker not only inebriated, but in peril of alcohol poisoning. Thus, attempts to quantify binge drinking (how much over how long) by a single threshold has left the field of alcohol scholars divided over what does and does not constitute binge drinking. The most widely used (and most often criticized) quantification of binge drinking is the 5/4 standard employed by Henry Wechsler of the Harvard School of Public Health.2 It states that a binge is the consumption of five or more drinks on an occasion for males and four or more drinks on an occasion for females.3That may not correspond to the levels of drinking the public typically imagines when they think of binge drinking, or to legal levels of intoxication when measured by other researchers, but it is a definition that for many reasons has gained traction in the public sphere. And as a result it is the one most favored by researchers. Internationally, there are many thresholds for labeling binge drinking, none of which are as low as the 5/4 standard.4 Binge drinking has no single definition that satisfies everyone, but the quotation above best represents the consensus view of binge drinking.5


1 Wechsler, H. (2000, October 20) Binge drinking: Should we attack the name or the problem? The Chronicle of Higher Education, B12.

2 Wechsler, H., Dowdell, G., Davenport, A. & Rimm, E.B. (1995). A gender-specific measure of binge drinking among college students. American Journal of Public Health, 85(7), 982.

3 ibid.

4 Hanson, D.J. (n.d.). Binge Drinking. Alcohol: Problems and Solutions. Retrieved February 23, 2006, from: http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/BingeDrinking.html.

5 Institute of Alcohol Studies (2006). IAS Fact Sheet –Binge Drinking. London, United Kingdom.