Columnist Stephanie Self explores the once vague and confusing definition of binge drinking as well as how it applies to her own drinking habits. Given the prevalent drinking culture throughout Reno, she considers the behaviors of binge drinking to be rather normalized among her peers. Photo illustration by Alexa Solis/Nevada Sagebrush.

by Stephanie Self

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a study regarding American drinking habits, specifically binge drinking. The term “binge drinking” has always been a bit foggy to me, so imagine my surprise when I realized that, according to the CDC, I am a binge drinker.

What does that mean exactly?

Well, binge drinking is defined differently depending on if you’re male or female. For men, it is consuming five or more drinks on one occasion. For women, it’s consuming four or more drinks on one occasion. One occasion, by the way, is within two or three hours.

However, beyond one occasion, your weekly drinking habits can also constitute binge drinking. For men, consuming an average of 15 or more drinks per week counts. For women, it’s consuming an average of eight or more drinks per week.

As you can probably already tell, there are quite a few variables in whether or not one is drinking too much. For instance, I could drink three nights per week, and on each of those nights only consume three drinks. On any one of those nights, I am not binge drinking because I have not consumed four or more. By the end of the week, however, I will have consumed nine drinks total, which means I’ve been on the train to “binge drunk” town the whole time.

I may not have even gotten sloppy, belligerent, let’s-have-conversations-I-told-myself-we-wouldn’t-have, I-might-need-a-babysitter-later drunk, but it’s considered a problem nonetheless. No wonder the CDC also says that 38 million Americans drink too much.

Man, I haven’t even had a drink today and I’ve already got the spins just thinking about my potential drinking problem.

So, enough of this analysis on alcohol use and abuse, my question is now whether or not my status as a binge drinker means that I have “a problem.” And are all my friends and peers who share my drinking habits just alcoholics in denial because we’ve deemed their behavior socially and culturally acceptable?

I can only speak for myself, of course. Regardless of falling into the category of a binge drinker, I can say a few things for certain. I do not wake up most mornings needing to take a shot of Black Velvet just to get rid of the shakes or delay a hangover. I don’t frequently wake up the morning after a night of drinking regretting most of the decisions I made (except maybe the time I slept with my ex about a month after we broke up, but that regret came much later).

The example I gave above, though, is true. Drinking a few drinks on one occasion a few nights a week is pretty average in my life. However, when I think about where I’m from and the age that I am, I don’t think it’s that abnormal for two main reasons.

First of all, I (like many of you reading this) live in Reno, Nev. This town is located in the heart of what has been called “the drunkest county in America.” We gamble. We smoke. We drink and party until 7 a.m., if possible. Bars in Calif. typically close at 2 a.m. and, as a result, I’ve had friends from the golden state travel here (for miscellaneous special occasions) to see the sun rise above seedy casinos in a drunken stupor. The drinking culture here is deeply rooted in one of excess and debauchery.

Second of all, I (again, like many of you) am in college. A college which, like many others around this nation, has four bars located directly across the street from various areas of campus. Getting drunk is a dirty and cheap (depending on where you go) way to decompress, certainly. I can’t help but think, though, that I wouldn’t be engaging in this behavior nearly as often if it wasn’t so culturally accepted here.

Maybe that’s where the disconnect lies: Perhaps we’ve glorified drinking to a point where a large amount of Americans have an alleged drinking problem. Or we are at least at risk of having one. Our social and cultural expectations of what it means to have a good time are adversely impacting our health.

But isn’t that the risk we take when drinking alcohol at all?

Yes. Yes, it is.

If you fall into the category of binge drinker, and I’m willing to bet many of you probably do, make sure to think about how much alcohol is affecting your day-to-day life. I still go to school and work when I’m supposed to, even if I might be a little hungover. Sometimes I’ll have one drink. Sometimes I’ll have five. Most of the time, I’m doing stuff that’s way more important.

Stephanie Self studies English. She can be reached at self@nevadasagebrush.com.