Vital Signs: Binge Drinking

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This new publication portrays binge drinking as a growing public health problem that affects all ages – not just a high school and college phenomenon. 

New statistics on binge drinking show that it occurs 4 million times a day and while concentrated among young adults, more than 33 million American adults binge drink each year and their numbers haven’t dropped for more than a decade. 

Definitions of binge drinking vary by gender. For men, it means consumption of five or more alcoholic drinks within a short period of time; for women, it means four or more. The study found that men tend to binge drink more frequently than women, with males ages 18-34 ranking higher than any other group. Two in three high school students who drink alcohol admit to binge drinking during the past month.

Binge drinking varies across income levels and geographic areas. Based on data collected from individuals age 18 or over, a higher propensity towards binge drinking tends to accompany a higher yearly income; those who earned $75,000 or more drank the most. Binge drinking is most common throughout the Midwest and North Central Plains. Data shows that between 17.2 percent and 23.9 percent of surveyed adults binge drink in Wisconsin, Delaware, Alaska, Nevada, and the District of Columbia; the state with the lowest adult binge drinking rate is Tennessee. Binge drinking among adults increased in 20 states across the country between 1993 and 2009.

Binge drinkers are not necessarily alcoholics, the study states, which makes it harder to recognize if an individual has a problem. The report states that binge drinking can lead to violence against others, car crashes and unplanned pregnancy, as well as increased alcohol dependence or addiction. Binge drinking can also increase the risk of contracting STDS and contributes to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The authors offer a variety of recommendations to combat the problem, suggesting that the U.S. government should be mindful of national binge drinking trends and develop new policies and programming to prevent it. On a state level, the authors urge government representatives and local organizations to partner with schools and law enforcement officials in an effort to raise awareness about binge drinking and create effective intervention programs. Doctors should also be involved in the initiative and, the authors add, individuals must take responsibility for the choices they make about their own alcohol consumption.

The purpose of CDC’s Vital Signs series is to educate the public about important current health topics. Using data collected from the CDC’s national surveillance surveys, Vital Signs will amass a body of statistics related to twelve different health issues (one per month). These topics will be reevaluated during the same month every year, providing updated data and analysis of national trends.

Free, 4 pages, http://www.cdc.gov/VitalSigns/pdf/2010-10-vitalsigns.pdf.