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CDC Reports: Binge drinking is a bigger problem than previously thought

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a whopping one in six U.S. adults binge drinks about four times a month, and on average the largest number of drinks consumed is eight. Find out what your community can do to prevent binge drinking.

New estimates show that binge drinking is a bigger problem than previously thought. More than 38 million U.S. adults binge drink, about 4 times a month, and on average the largest number of drinks consumed is eight. Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men over a short period of time.

As reported in this month’s Vital Signs, the CDC found that those who were thought less likely to binge drink actually engage in this behavior more often and consume more drinks when they do. While binge drinking is more common among young adults aged 18–34 years, binge drinkers aged 65 years and older report binge drinking more often—an average of five to six times a month. Similarly, while binge drinking is more common among those with household incomes of $75,000 or more, the largest number of drinks consumed on an occasion is significantly higher among binge drinkers with household incomes less than $25,000—an average of eight to nine drinks per occasion, far beyond the amount thought to induce intoxication.

Adult binge drinking is most common in the Midwest, New England, the District of Columbia, Alaska, and Hawaii. On average, however, the number of drinks consumed when binge drinking is highest in the Midwest and southern Mountain states (Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah), and in some states— such as Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina—where binge drinking was less common.

Binge drinking is a dangerous and costly public health problem.

  • It is important to consider the amount people drink when they binge and how often they do so.
  • Most alcohol-impaired drivers binge drink.
  • Most people who binge drink are not alcohol dependent or alcoholics.
  • More than half of the alcohol adults drink is while binge drinking.
  • More than 90% of the alcohol youth drink is while binge drinking.

Binge drinking costs everyone.

  • Drinking too much, including binge drinking, causes more than 80,000 deaths in the United States each year.
  • Drinking too much, including binge drinking, cost the United States $223.5 billion in 2006, or $1.90 a drink, from losses in productivity, health care, crime, and other expenses.
  • Binge drinking cost federal, state, and local governments about 62 cents per drink in 2006, while federal and state income from taxes on alcohol totaled only about 12 cents per drink.
  • Drinking too much contributes to more than 54 different injuries and diseases, including car crashes, violence, and sexually transmitted diseases. Over time, binge drinking also can lead to liver disease, certain cancers, heart disease, stroke, and many other chronic health problems.
  • The chance of getting sick and dying from alcohol problems increases significantly for those who binge drink more often and drink more when they do.

What you can do.

  • Choose not to binge drink and help others not do it.
  • Follow the U.S. Dietary Guidelines on alcohol consumption; if you choose to drink, do so in moderation— no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. Pregnant women and underage youth should not drink alcohol.
  • Support effective community strategies to prevent binge drinking, such as those recommended by the CDC Community GuideExternal Web Site Icon.
  • Support local control over the marketing and sale of alcoholic beverages.
  • Support the minimum legal drinking age of 21 years.

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