4 things to know about Oktoberfest and binge drinking

What is binge drinking, what can it do to you, and how do you avoid it this Oktoberfest?CBC put those questions and others to Waterloo region public health nurse Carol Perkins. Her answers may surprise you.

It takes less drinking than you think to binge, says public health nurse Carol Perkins

What you don't know may surprise you about what makes a 'binge,' says a public health official. (Michaela Rehle/Reuters)

Oktoberfest is here again, and many residents of Waterloo region are probably planning to do a little drinking this week. 

Waterloo Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin has been warning residents to try and take it easy this Oktoberfest and have fun without binge drinking.

"I think we have some work to do as a community, particularly around recent events with the homecoming etc., about enjoying life, enjoying different sporting events, enjoying different cultural events, and knowing it's okay to have a couple of libations," he said. "We're asking people to do it responsibly."

What is binge drinking?

Turns out, it doesn't take as much drinking as you might think before you're binge drinking, according to Carol Perkins, a public health nurse with the youth health program at the Region of Waterloo's public health department. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

1. When does drinking become binge drinking?

Binge drinking is classified as three or more drinks for women, or three or four drinks for men on any single occasion. On a night out, for guys, if you're drinking four or more drinks in one evening, that's considered a binge. That's based on Canada's Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines. 

Women metabolize alcohol differently than men. We have less enzymes to break alcohol down and we have more body fat and less water, therefore it stays in our system longer and is harder for us to break the alcohol down, so we should be drinking even less. 

2. How many people in Waterloo Region are considered binge drinkers?

In Waterloo Region, the stats from 2013 to 2014 show that 18.2% of people had at least one heavy episode of drinking in the last twelve months.

3. What is the public health effect of all that drinking?

If you're drinking too much too fast — like chugging or playing drinking games— you can end up with alcohol poisoning. 

We have an increased risk of violence. There's increased, risky sexual behaviour, unintentional injuries that happen like falls, burns. Drinking and driving is another concern.

Alcohol is a carcinogen and causes many types of cancers which people aren't aware of. It's directly ... related to cancers such as breast cancer for women, and that's something women often aren't aware of. 

There is also long term liver damage, mental health issues, risks of high blood pressure and heart problems.

4. How can people enjoy drinking responsibly this week?

If you are going to go out and have a night of drinking, simply plan ahead.

Make sure you eat something before you drink alcohol. It takes longer to enter your system that way. If you're drinking throughout the night, have snacks, but non-salty snacks, because having salty snacks encourages you to drink more. 

Secondly, pace yourself and alternate alcoholic drinks with water or non-alcoholic drinks.

We encourage people to track their drinks too. There's an ap the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has, called "Saying When," that can help you track your drinks. You can be discreet, people don't even need to know you're tracking your drinks.

Set a limit and stick to it, and don't be pressured by your friends or people you're with to drink beyond it. 

We also encourage people to go with friends and stay with friends, which decreases the risk — especially for young women — of getting into situations that may be risky. 

Mainly, the biggest message would be drink slowly, don't chug. It's drinking too much too fast that gets people into trouble and can lead to alcohol poisoning.

And always find a safe ride or transportation home.