The NIAAA defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 or above. This typically occurs when men consume five or more drinks in about two hours. For women, it’s consuming four or more drinks in the same time period. Getting drunk can affect a person’s physical and mental health. Accidents and falls are common because being drunk affects the balance and co-ordination with alcohol named as the single biggest cause of accidents at home.
In extreme cases overdosing on alcohol can stop a person’s breathing or stop their heart, or cause a person to choke on their vomit. Binge drinking can affect can also affect a person’s mood and memory and in the longer term can lead to serious mental health problems. More commonly, binge drinking can lead to anti-social, aggressive and violent behaviour.
It is sometimes difficult for a person to judge whether they are a binge drinker with medical team’s unable to gleen a full picture of drinking habits in order to flag up potentially harmful drinking behaviour to be treated. Now, a biomarker found in the blood of alcohol users has been identified as significantly higher in binge drinkers than in those who consume alcohol moderately, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The team state that the biomarker, called phosphatidylethanol (PEth), could be used to screen young adults for harmful or heavy drinking such as binge drinking.
Previous studies have shown that PEth is a ‘pathological’ phospholipid, formed via the action of phospholipase D only in the presence of ethanol. Levels of phosphatidylethanols in blood are used as markers of previous alcohol consumption, however, it had never been measured in young adults.
The current study measured PEth in blood samples from student participants at two large Midwestern university campuses. Participants were part of a larger ongoing study examining the cardiovascular effects of binge drinking. Participants completed a 10-question self-assessment survey to determine their drinking patterns. After the questionnaires were reviewed, the subjects were divided into three groups, abstainers, moderate drinkers and binge drinkers.
The researchers explained that abstainers had not had more than one drink per month in the past two to three years. For men, moderate drinking was defined as consuming three drinks or less per sitting one to two times per week in the past five years. For women, the number of drinks was two. Binge drinkers must have had at least two episodes of heavy drinking in one sitting in the last month. The majority of participants were Caucasian females. The majority of moderate and binge drinkers were Caucasian, while abstainers were predominantly Asian.
Following the self-assessment, blood was drawn from each participant to measure blood alcohol levels and PEth. Five blood spots were placed on cards to be dried and measured against the whole blood samples in an off-site drug testing laboratory. The data findings showed a significant correlation between PEth levels in both the whole blood and dried blood samples and the number of times subjects consumed four to five drinks in one sitting within the last 30 days.
The team surmise that using a biomarker of heavy alcohol consumption such as PEth could provide an objective measure for use in research, screening and treatment of hazardous alcohol use among young adults.
Source: UIC College of Nursing