Binge Drinking: Not Just a College Problem Anymore

Binge drinking is the most common, costly, and lethal pattern of alcohol use in the United States.  The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent or above. Or otherwise defined as consuming 5 or more drinks per occasion for men, and 4 or more drinks for women, usually within a 2-hour window. Binge drinkers binge in order to get intoxicated quickly, and as a result of this rapid intoxication, these drinkers account for more than half of the 88,000 annual fatalities resulting from alcohol abuse.

The severity of binge drinking is measured by frequency and intensity of intoxication. Recent research by Kanny, et al, (2018) was used to assess these disparities by applying a novel measuring algorithm in hope of a better understanding binge drinking. Total annual binge drinks were calculated by multiplying annual binge-drinking episodes by binge-drinking intensity (the number of drinks consumed).

In 2015, 37.4 million (17.1%) adults reported an average of 53.1 individual binge-drinking episodes, at an average intensity of 7 drinks per binge episode. This was annualized to 467 binge drinks per binge drinker.

Binge drinking has been a problem on college campuses since the 1960’s and remains more prevalent among 18-34-year-olds. However, 50% of the total binge drinks consumed in 2015 were by adults age 35 or older. Epidemiological data further elucidates this disturbing trend. These data reveal that the highest prevalence of binge drinking occurs among those with both low educational levels and low household incomes, when compared to those with more education and higher household incomes.

Why Does This Matter?

Binge drinking remains a major, unmet public health problem in the US. Binge drinking is a major preventable cause of mortality and years of potential life lost, a seldom discussed statistic that illuminates the heartbreak of senseless teenage mortality. Better educational efforts for both students and parents, and perhaps stiffer penalties that include assessment for Substance Use Disorder and mandated treatment should be considered.

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Kanny D, Naimi TS, Liu Y, Lu H, Brewer RD Annual Total Binge Drinks Consumed by U.S. Adults, 2015. Am J Prev Med. 2018 Apr;54(4):486-496. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2017.12.021.