• January 2020 •

From Juan Navarro, Executive Director
Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse

High-Intensity Drinking

New Year’s Eve (often known as “amateur night” by those in recovery) may be in the back mirror, but a serious discussion on alcohol is still important. Binge drinking (four+ drinks in one sitting for females and five+ for males) has been commonly used as a measure of increased risk for alcohol-related problems. Yet, a substantial portion of binge drinkers consume alcohol at levels two or three times over the binge threshold. As a result, researchers are beginning to distinguish binge drinking from high intensity drinking or HID – the consumption of 10+ drinks in a row.

HID is not uncommon and it’s dangerous. Rapid consumption of a lot of alcohol results in high blood alcohol levels, increased blood pressure, and great risk for both acute and long-term consequences. Participants tend to experience alcohol-induced memory losses, risky sex, physical injuries, need for medical treatment for overdose, as well as risk for long-term alcohol dependence.

Studies show that white individuals are the most likely to engage in high intensity drinking, especially young adults between the ages of 21 and 22. Although both college students and their non-college-attending peers have a high prevalence of high-intensity drinking, college students do it more frequently. Alarmingly, over 50% of high school drinkers also binge drink, and 44% consumed eight or more drinks in a row. Studies show that young people who use marijuana are much more likely to binge drink frequently than students who do not use marijuana. And excessive drinking puts all youth at higher risk for smoking cigarettes and using illicit drugs.

In 2020, alcohol remains a major contributor to mortality and morbidity in the United States. An estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making it the fourth-leading cause of preventable death. Recent analysis of national data showed that alcohol-related emergency department visits are increasing at a faster rate than overall visits, placing a huge burden on our already stressed health care system.

Learn More: Binge Drinking


Sylvia T.

“My name is Sylvia, I’m 22. The first time I took a drink I loved it. It was tequila, I was 12, and it was a family party. Food, drinks, mariachis, dancing, cute guys – the best party ever.  Everyone was drinking and no one seemed to notice if us kids sneaked one. It made me feel grown-up and I wasn’t shy no more. After that, I sneaked my parent’s booze, went to houses where there was drinking, smoked pot — just one long party. Then I got pregnant at 15. I knew I shouldn’t drink or it would hurt the baby but I did. Afterwards, my dad and mom were basically taking care of my daughter, so I just did my thing. Until one night I came home drunk and tried to hold my little girl, but she was scared of me and cried for my mom. That was a turning point for me. That night, I finally said ok to treatment. In recovery I learned how to stay sober and how to be a good mom. I got my GED, and I’m working a job. So, I would say, don’t let booze steal your kids – go get help now.”



Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is drinking that causes distress and harm. The disorder can range from mild to severe, depending on the symptoms. In general, people with this medical condition:

  • Drink alcohol compulsively
  • Can’t control how much they drink
  • Feel anxious, irritable, and/or stressed when they are not drinking.

Evidence-based treatment includes both medicines and behavioral therapies. Three medications are currently approved to treat AUD: 1) Disulfiram which causes unpleasant side effects when you drink alcohol, and 2) Naltrexone and 3) Acamprosate which reduce cravings.

Behavioral therapies for AUD include Motivational Enhancement Therapy which builds and strengthens personal motivation to change negative drinking behavior. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is also used in AUD treatment to help identify feelings and situations that can lead to heavy drinking, and to teach coping skills for managing stress and changing thoughts that cause people to drink. Brief Intervention and marital/family therapy are additional evidence-based therapies for alcohol use disorder. People in treatment for AUD at L.A. CADA frequently find it helpful to go to a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). For those with AUD and a mental illness, evidence-based treatment means getting concurrent help for both disorders.

Read more about Alcohol Use Disorders