binge drinkingNew Zealand’s newspapers, magazines, talkback radio, tv media and websites love nothing more than a good old story about Kiwi drinking patterns.

But like it or not, alcohol consumption is a major part of our lifestyle with heavy sponsorship in sports and a constant repetition of its branding – even its negative impact such as anti-drink-drive advertising – throughout our popular culture. Think it’s going away? Yeah, right.

But when it comes to tackling how we’re drinking, it’s absolutely vital that we understand the risks involved – not just if we get behind the wheel of a car, but even if we only spend one day sinking a skin-full.

According to research led by Dr Gyongyi Szabo from the University of Massachusetts Medical School and published in May 2014 in the PLOS ONE journal, that risk can be quite acute.

Quite apart from the safety risks and long term damage to the body’s organs associated with binge drinking, the study found key evidence that a single alcohol binge can cause damaging health effects.

And for many New Zealand drinkers the figures will be quite worrying – the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism determines binge drinking as a pattern of behaviour which brings blood alcohol concentration up to 0.08g.dL: that’s five glasses of wine for men or four for women over a two-hour period, depending on body weight.

“We found that a single alcohol binge can elicit an immune response, potentially impacting the health of an otherwise healthy individual,” said Dr. Szabo, professor of medicine, vice chair of the Department of Medicine and associate dean for clinical and translational sciences. “Our observations suggest that an alcohol binge is more dangerous than previously thought.”

The reason for this increased danger was their discovery that a single session of binge drinking increased toxins in the blood and bacteria leaking from the gut to levels which can trigger immune cells involved in fever, inflammation and tissue destruction.

New Zealand has long been involved in a debate about the drinking age and alcohol advertising and Government statistics show some of the message about the dangers surrounding binge drinking are getting through.

The 18 to 24-year-old age bracket is still the most likely to binge drink but their total numbers have reduced over recent years. The only age group binge drinking more are the 25 to 34-year-olds.

And the total amount of alcohol available to Kiwis last year fell 9.4 million litres (that’s 2{7e66f01e68c52d858b59d425bd8f3886b02d30322136bee7d8e459b39be00af4}) in 2014 – with decreases in beer, spirits and spirit-based drinks offset by a 5.7{7e66f01e68c52d858b59d425bd8f3886b02d30322136bee7d8e459b39be00af4} rise in the amount of wine available.

If you think you or anyone you know could benefit from alcohol treatment or counselling, Robert Street Clinic has a range of psychotherapists and psychologists skilled at dealing with all aspects of addiction.

When you understand the potential risk to your body and your lifestyle, chances are you will work hard at the underlying reasons for your addiction.