The concept of bingeing fits almost any addiction. We will focus on alcohol and food, and you can broaden the ideas to cover other addictions as well.

What is a binge? Some people call it a binge if there is any excess in drinking or eating. But to give the word any meaning it has to be an excessive quantity, over a somewhat short period. To distinguish a binge from an occasional excess, look at the type and quantity of substance or activity, and how long it takes for that consumption.


How much would signify a binge for you? Of course, if you believe you are an alcoholic, you probably think any is too much, and we would agree with that. But if you are a food addict who has not decided to stop all drinking you might wonder how much alcohol would be a binge for you.

With food, if you eat a day’s worth of food in a single meal, that probably would be a binge. Or, if you eat a week’s worth in a day or two, that also could be a binge. A “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner is often a binge.

A half-pint of liquor, a twelve-pack of beer, or a fifth of wine may not be a binge when shared among several nonalcoholics. But this quantity of alcohol consumed at one sitting by one person is probably a binge.

For compulsive gambling, a typical weekend at a casino is a binge. For sex addicts, the weekend might be spent in masturbation while reading pornography, or in illicit sexual activities.


How fast (minutes, hours, or days)? For a given quantity of alcohol or food, the faster it is consumed the more likely it would be called a binge. You probably would not be as concerned if you saw someone consume three beers or two pieces of pie in an afternoon as you would if it happened in ten minutes.

Types of Substance or Activity

Some substances draw more attention than others. In many cultures, distilled liquor seems much more dangerous than beer or wine. Foods with a high sugar content are more easily identified as binge foods. Many people think it is a binge to eat two baked potatoes at a meal, but think nothing of eating an eight-ounce portion of steak.

A binge can be recognized by observing the substance consumed and the feelings associated with that consumption. Take an honest look at how closely it resembles normal, healthy eating or responsible drinking. Is there guilt, panic, a sense of being “out of control”? Is it enough to alter mood or consciousness, either euphoria (a good feeling) or dysphoria (a bad feeling)?


With eating, there are two main forms of bingeing, and combinations. These same patterns are also common with alcoholism.

Pigging out Consumption of a large amount of food in a short period could be called “pigging out.” This is common with bulimics, a kind of “feeding frenzy” In alcoholism it shows in the fraternity party atmosphere, with “chugging” and drinking contests.

Grazing With food addiction, “grazing” is clearly excessive amounts of food forming a long, almost continuous meal. “I eat all day long.” It often involves a lack of memory or awareness of the amount and kinds of food eaten. This is common with obese people.

Among alcoholics, periodic trips to the decanter for a touch more sherry, or to the refrigerator for another beer, can result in consumption of a lot of alcohol over many hours or days.

Combinations Often there is a mixture of both patterns. Many alcoholics drink moderately, but daily, during the week, but get smashed on the weekend. It is common with “rollercoaster dieters” to graze sometimes, diet severely at others, and to pig out at other times.


Most definitions of abstinence from any kind of addictive behavior will include, at least, abstinence from obvious bingeing.

If your conceptual understanding of bingeing is clear, it should not be difficult to differentiate bingeing from normal drinking, using, eating, or behaving.


A common belief about binges is that there are certain situations, foods, or conditions that “trigger” a binge. While there are sensitive foods that stimulate food cravings, and “slippery” situations, like cocktail parties, where it is easier to start bingeing, we caution against overuse of the idea of a trigger. If you think of a gun, a very slight pressure on the trigger unleashes a tremendous reaction. Once you pull the trigger all the damage is done and there is nothing you can do about it. By giving the idea of a “trigger” too much power, you may be feeding into the stinking thinking that signals the process of relapse. We recommend thinking about slippery places instead, making it clear that you should avoid them if you can, or be careful if you can’t.

Other Addictions

With these ideas in mind, you can relate to a compulsive gambler’s spree in Las Vegas as a binge. A sex addict may ruin a business trip through uncontrolled sexual activity. These are some examples of binges.

Asking for Help

Eventually most addicts will encounter a situation in which they have no mental defense against a binge. Then they must be willing to accept help from a Higher Power, the program of recovery, or other people — preferably all of these. It is almost impossible to binge while you are aware that you are in the presence of your Higher Power. You must always convince yourself you are in some sense alone, or have turned your back on any kind of guidance, before you can binge.

Bingeing, see also: Abstinence, Addiction, Alcohol, Behavior, Binge history, Biochemistry, Bulimia nervosa, Craving, Crisis, Dichotomous thinking, Exercise & activity, Fantasy, Fats, Heroin, Marijuana, Moderation, Obesity, Powerlessness, Progression, Purging, Relapse prevention, Stinking thinking, Sugar, Unmanageability, Withdrawal.

Updated 7 Sep 2015


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