This post was originally published on January 5, 2015.
As if Millennials don’t have enough to worry about, what with coming of age with less money and fewer opportunities, research out of Loyola University suggests that binge drinking “significantly disrupts” the immune systems of healthy young adults.
One for You and Four for Me!
So what constitutes a binge drinker? The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. This typically happens when men consume five or more drinks, and when women consume four or more drinks, in about two hours. The CDC claims that surveys show that one in six American adults binge drinks about four times a month, consuming about eight drinks per binge.
This is a lot of counting. I don’t know anyone doing this kind of counting at happy hour. Basically binge drinking is getting shit faced.
So a Bender Can Result in More than Car Accidents and Chlamydia?
According to an article in the New York Times, a large body of evidence suggests that binge drinking is associated with a number of health hazards. It’s no surprise that tying one on increases the risk of traumatic injury (I spent four months in a cervical halo after learning this one) and decreases the ability to make informed decisions, but apparently that’s not all. Blood test results on the 15 Loyola University study participants showed a marked increase in immune system response at peak levels of intoxication and then two to five hours later a significantly repressed immune response.
Think of the immune system of a binge drinker—how she goes from a twerking headstand at her cousin’s bat mitzvah to rocking herself to sleep beside the toilet a few hours later, crying over no one loving her. The assumption here is that binge drinking causes the immune system to rage first (possibly due to inflammation) and crash second, making the body more vulnerable to infection.
But Are We Sure?
The truth is we need more research. According to the US Library of Medicine, the link between alcohol consumption and immune response is not yet completely understood. Studies have demonstrated that high levels of alcohol consumption can directly suppress immune response, but also that moderate drinking seems to have a positive impact on this same feedback loop.
Still, we are at last beginning to realize that incomprehensible demoralization is not the only result of binge drinking and there are long-term side effects as well; just look at the proliferation of research that exists supporting the link between breast cancer and binge drinking.
So What’s the Problem?
To me, these studies are problematic for many reasons: ethically, researchers in a lab can only ply their subjects with an acceptable amount of vodka—a concept that is in direct contradiction to a binge (or at least the way I think of one). And then, in real life situations, how to establish the cause-and-effect relationship between a drinking binge and the flu that inevitably follows that three-day weekend in Vegas? There is also the issue of under-reporting alcohol consumption. According to a UK study, English binge drinkers lie about how much they drink like I lie about how many people I’ve slept with. If, like Dr. House says, “Everyone lies,” then perhaps over imbibers are falling through the cracks and further delaying conclusive results about the even worse effects of pounding those four shots upon entering the club.