What is considered a binge?

Bingeing refers to excessive or uncontrolled consumption of food, alcohol, or drugs. There are no universally accepted criteria for what constitutes a binge, but some general guidelines exist.

Binge Eating

Binge eating involves consuming a large amount of food in a short period of time, along with a sense of loss of control over eating. The amount of food consumed during a binge varies by individual. Some proposed criteria for binge eating include:

  • Eating an objectively large amount of food, such as consuming over 1000 calories in one sitting
  • Eating faster than normal
  • Eating until uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when not hungry
  • Eating alone out of embarrassment over the amount of food consumed
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed after overeating

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines binge eating disorder as recurring episodes of binge eating that meet the following criteria:

  • Eating unusually large amounts of food in a discrete period of time
  • A sense of lack of control over eating during the binge episode
  • At least 3 of the following: eating rapidly, until overly full, when not hungry, alone out of embarrassment, or feeling disgusted, guilty, or depressed afterwards
  • Marked distress about bingeing
  • Binge episodes occur at least 1 day a week for 3 months

Binge eating is distinct from occasional overeating. It is characterized by loss of control and distress about overeating. Binge eating disorder involves frequent binge episodes coupled with strong feelings of guilt and shame.

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking refers to heavy alcohol consumption over a short period that leads to intoxication. There are various definitions of the drinking threshold for a binge.

  • The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as 4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more for men within 2 hours, which brings the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08% or higher.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines binge drinking as 5 or more drinks on one occasion for men and 4 or more drinks for women.
  • The Harvard School of Public Health sets binge drinking as 5 or more drinks in a row for men and 4 or more for women.

Binge drinking differs from moderate social drinking. The high number of drinks consumed in a short span of time with the intention of getting drunk is the distinguishing factor. Binge drinking often corresponds to drinking with the primary goal of intoxication.

Drug Bingeing

A drug binge refers to excessive intake of a recreational drug to maintain a high. Bingeing behavior occurs with various stimulant drugs, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and ecstasy. Characteristics of a drug binge may include:

  • Taking larger doses of the drug than normal
  • Using the drug continuously for an extended period, often 3 or more days with little sleep
  • Taking the drug as frequently as possible to avoid withdrawal and maintain a high
  • Taking the drug alone and in secret
  • Continuing drug use despite negative consequences
  • Having difficulty stopping the binge due to cravings and withdrawal

A drug binge is considered risky behavior as it increases the dangers of overdose, mental health problems, and addiction. The high doses consumed during a binge also lead to more severe crashes after the binge ends.

Is Bingeing Addictive Behavior?

Bingeing on substances like food, alcohol, and drugs stimulates reward circuits in the brain. This can trigger neurochemical changes that reinforce addictive behaviors. Bingeing activates the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is central to the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine provides positive reinforcement that can drive repetitive binge habits.

Over time, binge behavior can sensitize neural pathways and lead to cravings. Recurring binge episodes can indicate an addiction disorder. While not everyone who binges is addicted, bingeing is considered a potential sign of substance abuse problems.

Binge Eating Disorder

Research links binge eating disorder to similarities in brain reward circuitry seen in drug addiction. Neuroimaging studies show that the anticipation and consumption of high-calorie foods stimulates dopamine release in binge eaters’ brains. This neurochemical response correlates with feelings of loss of control over eating.

Evidence suggests binge eating activates addiction pathways in the brain. However, binge eating disorder is not classified as an addiction. More research is needed to determine if addiction models can fully explain binge eating.

Binge Drinking and Alcoholism

Binge drinking patterns are strongly associated with alcoholism. Chronic heavy episodic drinking is a risk factor for developing alcohol use disorder. Binge drinking floods the brain’s reward system with dopamine, creating intoxicating highs that can become habit-forming.

Studies show that binge drinkers’ brains adapt to the frequent dopamine surges.These neurological changes drive increased drinking over time. The compulsion to binge drink to excess indicates alcohol addiction.

Drug Binges and Addiction

Drug binges exemplify addictive substance abuse. The obsessive drug-seeking and loss of self-control exhibited in a drug binge are hallmarks of addiction. Bingeing on stimulants like cocaine leads to intense dopamine spikes that reinforce compulsive drug-taking behavior.

Prolonged drug binges can accelerate the progression to addiction. The brain may adapt to the flood of dopamine with changes that cause tolerance and cue-induced cravings. Drug binges indicate a substance use disorder requiring addiction treatment.

Health Risks of Bingeing

Bingeing on food, alcohol, and drugs carries both immediate and long-term health risks.

Binge Eating

The effects of binge eating may include:

  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Some cancers
  • Joint problems
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Metabolic syndrome

Binge eating disorder often coincides with anxiety, depression, and substance abuse that compound health risks. The guilt and shame around bingeing can also take a psychological toll.

Binge Drinking

Acute effects of binge drinking may include:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Injuries and accidents
  • Violent behavior
  • Unsafe sex
  • Vomiting
  • Hangovers
  • Memory blackouts

Long-term health effects include:

  • Liver disease
  • Digestive problems
  • Nerve damage
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Anemia
  • Cancer
  • Mental health issues
  • Neurologic deficits

Drug Bingeing

The health risks of drug binges include:

  • Overdose
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Hyperthermia
  • Rhabdomyolysis
  • Seizures
  • Psychosis
  • Aggressive or violent behavior
  • Risky sexual behavior and STDs
  • Accidents and self-injury

Long-term effects involve damage to vital organs like the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, and brain. Continued use leads to tolerance, dependence, and addiction.

Treatment for Bingeing Disorders

Treatment depends on the underlying causes of binge behavior but may include:

  • Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Support groups
  • Nutritional counseling for binge eating
  • Medications
  • Addiction treatment programs
  • Medical care for complications

A comprehensive treatment approach can help individuals gain control over bingeing habits and improve health.

Strategies to Stop Bingeing

Steps to gain control over problematic binge behavior include:

  • Acknowledging the problem and seeking help
  • Identifying triggers that precede binge episodes
  • Learning coping strategies to manage triggers and cravings
  • Finding healthful activities to substitute bingeing behaviors
  • Modifying schedules to limit time and opportunities to binge
  • Improving overall diet and nutrition
  • Practicing mindfulness and self-care
  • Establishing a healthy support system

With professional treatment guidance and commitment to change, individuals can break destructive bingeing cycles.

Warning Signs of a Bingeing Problem

Behaviors that may indicate problematic bingeing include:

  • Frequent episodes of overconsumption in short periods
  • Attempts to hide bingeing behavior from others
  • Gorging beyond the point of feeling full
  • Using bingeing as an emotional coping mechanism
  • Repeated failed attempts to cut back
  • Prioritizing bingeing behavior over other obligations
  • Escalating intake over time
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not bingeing
  • Bingeing despite persistent relationship, health, or legal problems
  • Sense of lack of control around binge triggers

Paying attention to these possible red flags and seeking help early is important.

Preventing Relapse after Stopping Bingeing

Strategies to prevent returning to binge habits include:

  • Staying vigilant about triggers and high-risk situations
  • Having a plan to manage overwhelming cravings
  • Following a structured routine that limits opportunities for bingeing
  • Replacing bingeing with healthy rewarding activities
  • Avoiding people, places, and things that encourage old bingeing patterns
  • Making connections with people who support sobriety from bingeing
  • Committing to a self-care regimen to manage stress
  • Seeking counseling or joining a support group
  • Being accountable and honest about any slip-ups
  • Getting back on track after a setback to prevent progression

Relapse prevention therapy helps equip individuals with skills to maintain positive changes long-term.

Getting Help for Bingeing

Support options may include:

  • Talking to a doctor, counselor, nutritionist, or addiction specialist
  • Calling a helpline for eating disorders or alcohol/drugs
  • Entering an inpatient or outpatient treatment program
  • Joining a 12-step program like Overeaters Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Enrolling in an intensive day treatment or partial hospitalization program
  • Participating in group or individual counseling
  • Hiring a sober coach or interventionist
  • Entering a sober living facility with aftercare

It is important to choose a program tailored to the individual’s needs. Professional treatment can help individuals overcome bingeing behavior and regain control of health and well-being.

Binge Eating Disorder Diagnostic Criteria

The diagnostic criteria for binge eating disorder according to the DSM-5 include:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating characterized by:
    • Eating an abnormally large amount of food in a discrete period of time
    • A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode
  • The binge eating episodes are associated with at least 3 of the following:
    • Eating more rapidly than normal
    • Eating until uncomfortably full
    • Eating large quantities when not feeling physically hungry
    • Eating alone due to embarrassment over amount eaten
    • Feeling disgusted, guilty, or depressed after overeating
  • Marked distress about the bingeing
  • Bingeing occurs at least 1 day a week for 3 months
  • Bingeing not exclusively associated with compensatory behaviors like purging

The disorder is more common in women but does occur in men. Binge eating disorder is distinct from bulimia nervosa.


Bingeing behaviors involving excessive uncontrolled consumption apply to overeating, alcohol use, and drug intake. While definitions vary, bingeing generally refers to hazardous patterns of overconsumption that are psychologically and physically harmful. Recurrent bingeing can signal addictive disorders and serious health risks. Recovery requires professional treatment to break binge-purge cycles and establish healthier lifestyle habits.

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