Binge Drinking: America’s Favorite Pastime

 Binge drinking is defined as heavy use of alcohol, periodically. It is drinking five or more drinks on the same occasion at least once in the past 30 days.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking is defined as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 or higher. Binge drinking differs from alcohol dependence, which involves imbibing alcohol frequently, but rarely to excess in a short period of time. On average, binge drinking involves 5 drinks or more within a 2-hour period for men or 4 drinks or more within the same time period for women.

In 2012, 18.3% of people in the U.S. were considered binge drinkers.

Binge Drinking Defined

In the United States, the most accepted definition is a pattern of drinking that brings the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g/liter. This is the level considered to be “over the legal limit” for operating a motor vehicle, in all 50 states. This generally occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men, within a 2 hour time period (also known as the “5/4 rule”).

Binge Drinking By The Numbers

People who binge, generally speaking, want to get drunk. Two large glasses of wine may not seem like very much. But drinking six units of alcohol in a short space of time (1 hour), will raise the BAC and could make a person drunk quickly. Drinking the same amount over several hours, especially if accompanied by food, will not have the same effect on their BAC. A standard drink is equal to 14.0 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of alcohol is found in:

  • 12-ounces of beer (5% alcohol content).
  • 8-ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content).
  • 5-ounces of wine (12% alcohol content).
  • 1.5-ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, whiskey).

New Binge Drinking Study – The Demographics

According to USA Today, the recently released study by American Journal of Public Health finds the highest rates of overall and problem drinking in New England, along the Pacific coast and in the northern parts of the West and Midwest.

Some of the big “winners and losers” were Wisconsin’s Menominee County, home of the Menominee Indian Reservation, where 36% of drinking-age adults binge-drink.
The least likely to binge drink heavily was in Mormon Madison County Idaho, with only 5.9%.
Sparsely populated Esmeralda County Nevada, 22.4% drink heavily. The least likely to drink heavily was Hancock County, in Tennessee’s Appalachian Mountains, where the rate was only 2.4%.

Binge drinking is more common in men than it is in women. Among students in the US, approximately 50 percent of men and 39 percent of women binge drink. Racial differences exist among binge drinking with Hispanics followed by Caucasians having the highest level of binge drinking. It is a common pattern among the Native American population.

Women are now “hitting the bottle” harder than ever before. The binge-drinking rate for females rose 17.5% between 2005 and 2012, while the men’s rate increased 4.9%.

On College Campuses

Binge drinking is done more by young people than any other single group. College parties are often centered on drinking lots of alcohol in a short amount of time.

Nearly four out of five college students drink alcohol.
Almost half of college students who drink, binge drink.

Dire Consequences Of Binge Drinking

The consequences of binge drinking are basically identical to the dangers associated with drinking, just magnified in likelihood because binge drinkers intentionally drink enough alcohol to be defined as legally and medically drunk.

These consequences include:

  • Unsafe sex that may result in unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease
  • Sexual assault, potentially by or against the binge drinker
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome when binge drinking while pregnant
  • Alcohol poisoning, potentially resulting in hospitalization or death
  • Unintentional injuries due to falls, use of dangerous equipment, or lack of risk awareness while in dangerous locations
  • Drunk driving, which is 14 times more likely when binge drinking than when drinking normally
  • Cardiovascular diseases including stroke
  • Liver disease and eventually liver failure
  • Neurological damage, both in the short and long term
  • Exacerbation of diabetes, potentially even leading to death without fast enough medical attention

Binge Drinking Consequences On Campus’

Drinking has serious consequences on the college community and families. Here are some of them;

  • Death: 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries.
  • Assault: another student who has been drinking assaults More than 690,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24.
  • Sexual Abuse: More than 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
  • Injury: 599,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 receive unintentional injuries while under the influence of alcohol.
  • Academic Problems: About 25 percent of college students report academic consequences of their drinking including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.
  • Health Problems & Suicide Attempts: More than 150,000 students develop an alcohol-related health problem and between 1.2 and 1.5 percent of students indicate that they tried to commit suicide within the past year due to drinking or drug use.

Underage Binge Drinking

Early use of alcohol can draw young people into a host of problems and aggravate existing ones.

  • Each year approximately 5,000 young people die as a result of underage drinking including 1,900 deaths from motor vehicle crashes, 1,600 as a result of homicides, 300 from suicide, and hundreds from other injuries such as falls, burns, and drowning.

  • Approximately 600,000 college students are unintentionally injured while under the influence of alcohol.

  • Other students who have been drinking assault approximately 700,000 students and about 100,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

  • Over 11,000 teens in the United States try using alcohol for the first time every day and more than four million drink alcohol in any given month.

Why Some Young People Binge Drink Too Much Alcohol

Young people, like adults, drink alcohol for many different reasons. Some of the reasons may seem obvious, but understanding the feelings behind these reasons can be difficult. Here are some of them’

  • To get away from from family problems or issues
  • To self-medicate mental issues such as low self-esteem, depression or anxiety
  • Deal with the pressures of everyday social situations
  • Change their image or to fit in
  • Try and gain confidence or lose inhibitions
  • Have parents who drink and send the wrong message about alcohol

Binge Drinking – Statistically Speaking

According to the CDC, binge drinking is the most common pattern of excessive alcohol abuse in the United States. Approximately 17% of adults binge drink at least four times a month, averaging about 8 drinks per binge. Men are twice as likely to binge drink as women and more than half the alcohol consumed in the United States is consumed while binge drinking. This number increases to 90% when the drinker is under the age of 21.

The most common age of binge drinkers is adults aged 18 – 34. However, while they are less likely to be binge drinkers, adults aged 65 or more that binge drink averages the highest number of binge drinking events a month, at about 6 per month. Overall, if an individual drinks excessively in any way, there is a roughly 90% chance they have engaged in binge drinking within the past month.

These statistics are from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Binge drinking is dangerous and problematic. It is the number cause of alcohol poisoning.

Here are just some examples:

    • In the United States, alcohol costs society 223 billion dollars a year.

    • One in six U.S. adults binge drinks about four times a month, consuming about eight drinks per binge.

    • Overall, 11.9% of binge drinkers drove a motor vehicle within 2 hours of a recent drinking episode.

    • While binge drinking is more common among young adults aged 18 to 34 years old, the 65 years and older age group report doing it more often, an average of five to six times a month.

    • Binge drinking is more common among those with household incomes of $75,000 or more than among those with lower incomes.

    • Nearly 92% of U.S. adults who drink excessively report binge drinking in the past 30 days.

    • Although college students commonly binge drink, 70% of binge drinking episodes involve adults age 26 years and older.

    • The prevalence of binge drinking among men is twice the prevalence among women.

    • Binge drinkers are 14 times more likely to drive while alcohol-impaired than non-binge drinkers.

    • About 90% of the alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 in the United States is in the form of binge drinking.

      Prevention and Treatment Of Binge Drinking

      As previously noted, the majority of individuals that engage in binge drinking are not alcohol dependent. As such, traditional treatment is not particularly effective to prevent future binge drinking. If there is a psychological component to the binge drinking, which is common, psychiatric counseling may help prevent future incidents. In general, though, alternate approaches to prevention are common.

      Education is moderately effective if strong enough evidence is presented. The best evidence is medical evidence of the long-term damage that binge drinking can cause and evidence of the monetary cost involved in binge drinking. The effectiveness is increased if that danger or cost can be shown to directly affect the binge drinker.

      Other prevention methods are almost entirely engaged in by the government. This includes, but is not limited to, maintaining and enforcing a minimum drinking age, increasing the cost of alcoholic beverages through taxation, consistent enforcement of laws broken while binge drinking including drunk driving laws, and holding alcohol retailers responsible when they serve alcohol to obviously inebriated individuals. While these methods help, primarily binge drinking is prevented when either a friend or family member intervenes, or the binge drinker chooses to stop on their own.

    • CDC Binge Drinking Stats

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Criteria for alcoholism

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