A Binge By Any Other Name Would Smell Just As Bad

This article by Dr. Ciara Kelly in the Irish Independent about alcohol consumption in Ireland featured once sentence which leaped out at me.

Binge-drinking is defined as more than six units of alcohol – that’s three pints. That’s fact.

What’s interesting to me is the sentence “That’s fact”. Because on one reading it can be considered to say that it’s fact that three pints is binge-drinking, but what it really says is that three pints is defined as binge drinking. And that’s fine, but I find it odd the author stresses that this definition is fact, as if that strengthens the argument. It is a fact that in this country, at this time, some people define the word binge as meaning three pints. This is true, but what is so important about it?

It is absolutely important that medical experts advise us on how much alcohol consumption is dangerous to our health, but I wonder how important it is to define it in a word such as ‘binge’. I think it is an emotive word that immediately puts people on the defensive. People who are, possibly, in denial about their own levels of drinking, do not want to be told they are ‘binging’.

Dr. Ciara Kelly explains that:

It’s considered a binge because more than six units causes adverse physical effects.

This is a fact that can be observed. This is important. But what follows is a somewhat arbitrary and definitely subjective choice to then label this amount a ‘binge’. The problem is then that your definition of ‘binge’, as Dr. Kelly points out, is at odds with much of the publics understanding of that word. In this gap then arises doubt, and rejection. I have talked to people who have heard doctors warn about Irish people and binge drinking, who reject it saying “that’s not a binge”. Maybe the point is to be emotive, to shock people into realising that what they are doing is ‘binging’ – but if they don’t consider what you define as a binge to be the same thing, you lose them.

And what’s lost is the really important stuff – the medical advise about levels of alcohol and health, in an argument over semantics. Dr. Kelly makes a very strong, clear argument for the Irish to reconsider our drinking, but I fear she loses people at the B-word.