The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse (niaaa.nih.gov) 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 5 or more drinks or women consume 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours.
The CDC recently reported that binge drinking continues to rise in the U. S., but unlike in the past where the vast majority of this type of alcohol abuse happened among younger adults, older adults are also binging. Recent numbers reported by the CDC indicate 1 in 6 American adults binge drink on a weekly basis. Binge drinking effects adults of all ages, with the largest groups of binge drinkers falling into the age range of 18-34 and the second largest group in the 35-44 age range. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm
Despite the information about the dangers of excessive alcohol and binge drinking, this trend continues to climb with an interesting exception, states where marijuana use is legal show binge drinking rates have declined. Earlier this year, the Wall Street Research Firm of Cowen & Company reported that binge drinking rates were 9% lower in states where recreational cannabis use is legal.
While many studies have shown the potential benefits of cannabis over opioids, not as much research has been done concerning alcohol versus marijuana. However, as more states are considering legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational purposes we can hope to see more resources spent on discovering the benefits and potential uses of cannabis plants.
Supporting the link between reduced binge drinking and legal cannabis are recent studies indicating that cannabis can help alcoholics recover and suppress their desire for alcohol.
Substituting cannabis for alcohol may reduce drinking and related problems among alcohol-dependent individuals. Some even recommend prescribing medical cannabis to individuals attempting to reduce drinking.
Substitute therapies for tobacco (e.g. nicotine replacement therapy) and heroin (e.g. methadone) have been available for some time, while similar substitutes for alcohol have been more elusive.
One Canadian study surveyed over 400 medical marijuana patients and found that over 41% substituted cannabis for alcohol. The three reasons they gave were less withdrawal, fewer side-effects, and better symptom management.
One possible reason that marijuana helps reduce alcohol dependence is due to the proven ability of marijuana to treat alcohol related disorders such as, anxiety, depression, and stress. These issues have a tendency to drive people to alcohol in an effort to reduce the feelings brought on by such disorders. Since many strains of marijuana can reduce the intensity of these feelings, it may prevent people from seeking alcohol. Treating these disorders may lead to a decreased desire for alcohol.
Using marijuana responsibly could provide relief from these disorders without the dangers of addiction and withdrawal that we see with prescription drugs and alcohol.
- Esser MB, Hedden SL, Kanny D, Brewer RD, Gfroerer JC, Naimi TS. Prevalence of alcohol dependence among US adult drinkers, 2009–2011. Prev Chronic Dis. 2014;11:140329. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd11.140329.
- Chick and Nutt ((2012) Substitution therapy for alcoholism: time for a reappraisal? J Psychopharmacol 26:205–12)
- Stahre M, Roeber J, Kanny D, Brewer RD, Zhang X. Contribution of excessive alcohol consumption to deaths and years of potential life lost in the United States. Prev Chronic Dis 2014;11:130293. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd11.130293.
- Philippe Lucas, Amanda Reiman, Mitch Earleywine, Stephanie K. McGowan, Megan Oleson, Michael P. Coward & Brian Thomas (2013) Cannabis as a substitute for alcohol and other drugs: A dispensary-based survey of substitution effect in Canadian medical cannabis patients, Addiction Research & Theory, 21:5, 435-442, DOI: 10.3109/16066359.2012.733465