Due to the long term effects of alcohol abuse, binge drinking has become a major public health issue.
What is binge drinking? Social, medical and emotional health media categorize “binge- drinking” as a pejorative term. It includes individuals who engage in heavy, episodic consumption of alcohol. This is largely intended to become intoxicated in a short period of time. I agree with that definition and add that binge drinking can last up to several days and occasionally, even weeks. My colleagues and myself, here at The Lighthouse Emotional Wellness Center, view binge drinking as a dangerous behavior. The outcomes are often felt by the individual who commits binge drinking and also the families that have to endure the dangerous behavior. It is not normal adolescent behavior. Instead, it can cause emotional wreckage within families and cause significant impediments to career and academic success.
What is the danger of binge drinking? Brain damage occurs faster and more severely with binge drinking than it does with chronic alcohol abuse (i.e. alcoholism). The neurotoxic damage is more acute with the practice of binge drinking. The sheer volume of alcohol ingested in a short period of time damages or destroys neurons in the brain. When I see an adolescent, in my practice, that indulges in binge drinking, I visualize the behavior as a self- inflicted hammer blows to their young, developing brain. Medical doctors assure me that repeated episodes of binge drinking results in accumulated and sustained neural brain damage. The developing brain of an adolescent is particularly susceptible to the neurotoxic effects of binge drinking. Sadly, the damage does not end with the brain. Binge drinking is associated with profound social harm, economic costs and a host of organ system damage. Once the euphoric effects of binge drinking wear off and the hangover is concluded, the adverse effects upon neurological, cardiac, hematologic and gastrointestinal systems within the human body continue and multiply.
There is another danger that we address here at the Lighthouse Emotional Wellness Center. That danger is the emotional wreckage that is inflicted upon families that include binge drinker(s). Forty percent of adult alcoholics report heavy drinking during adolescence. Repeated episodes of binge drinking, especially at an early age, are thought to cause a profound risk in the development of alcohol and substance related disorders. Even if all of the above were untrue, study after study associates binge-drinking in adolescence, having ill effects on the developing adolescent brain. The main lobes that are involved in decision making and complex thought processes are undergoing their final development phase during adolescence. Binge drinking can negatively stunt the growth of the frontal lobes. Long after the behavior is concluded the medical effects linger on.
How to treat binge drinking? Alcohol problems vary in terms of severity from mild to life threatening. Its presence affects the individual and the individual’s family. Our focus at The Lighthouse is to detect if binge drinking is present. Is binge drinking the origin of family or individual emotional dysfunction? There is a sense of urgency if this is the case. Our staff seeks to identify and extinguish the binge drinking before it becomes chronic alcoholism. Our agency seeks to develop emotional wellness and build better relationships. The presence of binge drinking within a family system is an impediment to that goal. The purpose of therapy requires building strong therapeutic alliances between the family, the individual and the therapist. The presence of anxiety, depression, fears and anger, often mask the real cause. If that cause is binge drinking, by a member of the family system, it is swiftly identified.
The clinical model that I often employ is: Client Centered Therapy. In short I create an atmosphere in which the binge drinker or the family member(s) can express their inner feelings with a certainty that they are being understood and not judged. This model makes it more likely that the origin or the need for binge drinking will be discovered.
The next step begins when the client commits to the pursuit of healing and growth. This demands a great deal of courage because the answers and solutions reside within the individual and not the therapist.
Three elements are demanded from the therapist:
The first is that I must foster a sense of empathy for the clients experience.
The second is that I must demonstrate unconditional positive regard. This eliminates “finger wagging, judgment and shaming.” I express the unconditional positive regard literally.
The final element is congruence or a sense of genuineness by myself for the well being of the client. I never hide behind the use of jargon, platitudes and a professional façade. Client- Centered therapy demands an active role from the binge drinker and/or their family member. The responsibility to change is firmly within the client. My responsibility is to create a forum for the change to occur through empathy, unconditional positive regards and genuineness. The danger of binge drinking becoming chronic alcohol abuse is lessened when therapy is entered early and as part of a comprehensible treatment plan.
-Written by: Edward L. Oriole L.C.P.C. C.A.D.C. N.C.C.
-With contribution from Andrea Serrano