A binge culture.

What a sorry excuse of a weekend I had. One that I had planned on doing so much but consequently had achieved so little. I’d blame it on the alcohol, but really that’s just an excuse for my behaviour. It was me. The pre-drinking, the tequila shots, the beer, the wine, the vodka. The comatose state on the couch, the vomiting, the waking up at 5am not remembering anything or anyone. The wasted Saturday, the hungover Sunday and the queezy Monday.

Unfortunately, I wouldn’t have been the only one over the weekend in New Zealand who ended up this way. I most certainly won’t be the last either.

I like to drink to have a good time. There is something about the alcohol blanket that is a tall glass of comfort and thrill in equal measure. I love a glass of wine with friends. The ones that make you laugh until you cry, the ones who throw your comfort zone out the window, and the ones that give you the memories that last a lifetime. We are social butterflies and we want to have a good night that will last forever. So you have a few drinks and you’re finally there- everything is funny, the selfies are in abundance, the ‘I love you so much, you’re my best friend’, the reckless behaviour. You could just stop there, but you don’t. More shots, stronger drinks, and that’s when it hits you. You’ve become a statistic and a liability. You’ve put yourself into a drinking coma, you’re vomiting, everything and everyone is dizzy, you can’t stand up for yourself, and in the process, you’ve ruined other people’s night. Suddenly it’s not so fun anymore.

“Let’s get drunk!” It’s the harsh reality of our drinking culture in New Zealand : more than six hundred thousand adults binge drink once every week; 75,000 teenagers regularly binge drink and a high incidence of young women are being admitted to hospital with alcohol poisoning.

I never considered myself an alcoholic. I don’t drink during the weekdays and it’s not something I do every weekend. But when I do, the effects last a lifetime. Alcohol can take up to 24 hours to leave your bloodstream. 17 million working days are lost to hangovers each year. I never stopped to think or question the ramifications my actions would have, which is pretty selfish of me really when shit hits the fan. There were moments throughout the night where being drunk made me feel ecstatic and comfy. The room was spinning, and the drinks were flowing- I loved it.

Until the next day. When my memory started to fit back together like pieces to the puzzle. Drinking more than one alcoholic beverage each hour would have lowered my IQ level by an average of eight points. Don’t kid yourself that one glass of alcohol is always equivalent to one standard drink- how big is the glass, and what is the alcohol content of what you are drinking. To think that 29% of adult drinkers in New Zealand are considered to be binge drinkers is not a good statistic. Excessive drinking is linked to a variety of health problems including brain damage, cancers, liver damage, stomach ulcers, osteoporosis and depression.

The prefrontal cortex is right at the front of your brain. It’s tasked with grown-up things like weighing up the risks involved when you make decisions. It helps you to make choices based on the evidence rather than what your teenage “but I love him” brain tells you to do. It is also the part of the brain that keeps your impulses and emotions in check. It’s the little voice in your head that says, “Are you sure you should be going out and drinking when you have work to do tomorrow?” (Damn you, Danielle of the past!)

If you’re like me (i.e. you enjoy living your life with your head in the sand aka a glass of wine) then you probably won’t know this: Your prefrontal cortex doesn’t stop developing until you’re in your mid-20s. If you’re a millennial, this means your brain is still quietly forming its inner grown-up. Your prefrontal cortex is still coming to the party while your playing beer pong on the weekends, or burying yourself in a bottle of wine at FriYAY night drinks, or as you stagger home at 4am from a night out on the town.

Binge drinkers have been shown to have impaired working memory, to have lower verbal recall, and to be less adept at problem-solving than their non-binging peers. Academics who study binge drinking are worried and are linking all that weekend drinking we’re doing is causing lasting damage to our brains.

I love my brain, it does a great job at keeping me alive. It’s how I make a living and it’s how I graduated with a Bachelors degree last week.

There is just something about binge drinking with the right people and in the right environment that makes me look forward to the weekend. The slow fuzzy glow that spreads through you as you knock back the wines. I love how somehow everything becomes so much funnier, how the relaxation smooths out all the tension you were only vaguely aware of, how the worries of the day fade into the distance until they’re nothing at all. And I love how my cocoon of insecurities get dimmed down so long that I can interpretive dance like a complete maniac and not giving a flying frack what anyone else thinks.

But I can’t do it any more. There is a limit. I always look down at the drunken girls of the streets with their heads in the gutter and their dresses up to their necks and swore I would never be one of them. And I was right- I don’t want to be one of them. I may feel glorious when I’m drunk but I can also be a liability when I’ve had too much. I’ve crossed the line one too many times from drunken happy to drunken liability.

My friends and family (bless them) don’t deserve liability Danielle when they are out for a good night as well. They aren’t my carers, or my nurses. They don’t deserve to remember me as the girl who KO’d on her bed before midnight. But I thank god for every single one of them because without them- I’d hate to think where I’d be.

This isn’t a ban alcohol parade. It’s not what we’re drinking but rather how we are drinking. This is merely a realisation that excessively drinking to the point where you throw up your dignity, is not ok. Drinking alcohol is an integral part of the social scene here in New Zealand. When you don’t drink, everyone seems to take it as a personal affront. People may ask where “fun Danielle” has gone, while I awkwardly laugh along. But it will sting. I may miss my drunken security blanket, but I’m sure ripping it off will give me a number of perks as well.

I won’t miss the hangovers and the wasted day after. The black-outs. Having to keep drinking because otherwise you’ll realise that you’ll be bored or tired or not that much fun. The holes in your memory where you’re not entirely sure what you did or what you said. How alcohol literally oozes out your pores the day after. Oh, and the brain damage.

So binge drinking, it’s a goodbye for now. Maybe that’s a sign that my prefrontal cortex is finally finished! I’m embarrassed and disappointed right now. But it will subside. Life can be a mess sometimes, so make sure you get good friends to help you through it.

“Everything in life teaches you a lesson, you just have to be willing to learn”

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