Binge Drinking at Different Ages and Different Events

Professional Q&A with Jennifer Dorsey, LPC, CAC-I, Clinical Director, Kolmac Clinic, Washington, DC

Binge Drinking at Different Ages and Different Events

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Jennifer Dorsey began her work in the field of addictions treatment in 1999. 

Jen holds a Master’s degree in Counseling-Psychology from Bowie State University and is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Addiction Counselor in the District of Columbia.  Not one to stop learning, Jen has recently completed her Post-Master’s Certificate in Community Mental Health Counseling at the Johns Hopkins University. 

Jen began working at the DC Kolmac Clinic in 2007 and was instrumental in starting the first daytime Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) in the DC office since its inception in 1984.

 She was kind enough to share her thoughts on binge drinking, also when and how to seek help.

 

We’ve heard a lot about binge drinking over the past few years, but it’s mostly in the context of people in their teens and twenties.  Does this activity affect other populations too?

In my experience, binge drinking can impact any population.

I have worked with adult professionals who experience binge drinking episodes, with periods of control in between.

 

Is a binge drinker necessarily an alcoholic?

Not necessarily.

How much and how often someone drinks is not the only defining aspect of a person with alcohol dependence.  Other important factors should be assessed in determining the level of problem drinking.

Some of these include:

  • Loss of internal control (once I start I can’t stop – OR – I didn’t plan to drink, but I did anyway)
  • Continued use despite adverse consequences
  • Repeated failed attempts at stopping or cutting down
  • Negative impact on social, work or personal functioning
  • Withdrawal symptoms (not a factor that would be identified in binge drinkers)

 

Is there a specific cultural demographic that is most at risk?

In our culture, young adult college students are likely to be most at risk for binge drinking.

The college atmosphere lends itself to the “work hard – play hard” mentality. Unfortunately, episodic binge drinking can lead to disastrous results, including medical, legal, and school consequences.  In my work with adults who have substance use disorders, a common background experience that I hear is one of binge drinking during late teens and early twenties that ultimately turned into daily drinking.

 

Is binge drinking a “new” phenomenon?  If not, why has it gained so much attention in the last decade?

I do not think binge drinking is a new phenomenon.  I can only hypothesize that binge drinking has gained attention within the last decade because of our media focus on young celebrities who are engaging in binge drinking activities.

 

Why is this behavior so bad?  Isn’t it just a way to have fun and blow off steam?

The risk with binge drinkers is that the period of abstinence or controlled drinking in between binge episodes provides a false sense of security and control, making problem drinking more difficult to self-diagnose for the individual.  Moreover, binge drinking typically includes consuming a very large amount of alcohol that can lead to blacking out, where the [individual’s] conscious memory is shut down but they are still functioning.  There are significant health risks during these binge episodes, including alcohol poisoning, driving while under the influence and engaging in other high risk behaviors.

 

Do certain therapeutic techniques work better for someone in adolescence vs. twenties/thirties vs. retirees?

Because of different developmental stages, there are certainly different approaches that can be used in working with specific age groups.

I have found that regardless of age, it is vital that each person is able to make their own argument for change.  Motivational Interviewing, introduced first by William R. Miller in 1983, is a therapeutic approach that helps individuals with substance use disorders to confront their own ambivalence about change.

 

Should people who binge drink on weekends but abstain during the week seek help?

Anyone who is concerned about their drinking, or is hearing concerns from loved ones about their drinking, should consider seeking help.

 

What signs should people (parents, co-workers…) look for if someone is a binge drinker but not doing so in their presence?

Loved ones can be on the lookout for blackout experiences.  Someone who binge drinks and experiences blackouts would have little to no memories of the night(s) they were drinking.  They may have made phone calls or texts and not remember making them.  They would not remember events or conversations. This is probably one of the most glaring warning signs.

 

What should a person who binge drinks and feels as though it’s a problem do?

This person should absolutely seek help.

The first step is to see a qualified counselor or therapist who can provide an evaluation.  Based on the results, a referral for treatment may be required.

There are different levels of treatment, including outpatient, intensive outpatient, and inpatient – which provide varying degrees of structure and care.

 

Thank you so much for taking time to answer these questions.  A good way to wrap this up might be to ask, if people would like to reach you or seek treatment from the Kolmac Clinic, what methods should they use?

I can be reached at memberservices@bingebehavior.com.

For information about assessments for problem or binge drinking, call the admissions department at the Kolmac Clinic (301) 589-0255 or visit www.kolmac.com.

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