From Our 2010 Archives

CDC: Binge Drinking 'Huge U.S. Health Problem'

Binge Drinking Rates Highest in Wisconsin, Lowest in Tennessee

By Daniel J. DeNoon
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 5, 2010 -- Binge drinking is a "huge public health problem" in the U.S., yet most of us don't know it's a problem, the CDC today announced.

Because 80% of binge drinkers are not alcoholics, it's not recognized as a problem, CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, said today at a news teleconference.

And on the face of it, binge drinking doesn't seem so terrible. A binge, as defined by the CDC, is having several drinks -- four for women and five for men -- in a couple of hours. Anyone who's done this even once in the last month is a binge drinker.

But binge drinking is worse than it sounds. The average binge drinker puts down eight drinks in those two hours, not just four or five. Younger drinkers slam down even more than eight drinks on average, says Robert Brewer MD, MPH, head of the CDC's alcohol program.

The CDC calculates that binge drinkers account for more than half of the 79,000 annual alcohol-related deaths in the U.S. and for two-thirds of the 2.3 million years of potential life lost in 2001-2005. Six percent of all alcohol-attributed deaths -- 4,675 per year -- are in people under age 21.

"Because binge drinking is not recognized as a problem, it has not decreased in 15 years," Frieden said.

Frieden and Brewer said the short-term risks of binge drinking include car crashes, violence (including child abuse), risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and unintended pregnancy. Long-term risks include liver disease, cancer, stroke, heart disease, and other chronic diseases.

"Drinking at a high level like this, consistently, can be related to a wide risk of health problems," Brewer said at the news conference. "We do not consider binge drinking at any level safe. It is like smoking in that regard."

Nationwide self-reported telephone surveys of adults and teens show that in 2009:

  • Among the 41.8% of high school students who drink, 60.9% are binge drinkers. Overall, one in four high school students binge drink -- and that number should be higher, as the teen study defined binge drinking as five drinks for both males and females instead of the national definition of four drinks for females and five drinks for males.
  • 15.2% of Americans report binge drinking, with rates ranging from 6.8% of people in Tennessee to 23.9% of people in Wisconsin.
  • Binge drinking is more common among adults age 18-24 (25.6%), adults age 25-34 (22.5%), among men (20.7%), and among whites (16%).
  • People with annual household incomes of $75,000 or more are more likely to binge drink (19.3%).
  • From 1993 to 2009, binge drinking decreased among high school boys but remained about the same in high school girls. There was no overall change in binge drinking for adults.

But there is likely to be underreporting in these statistics. People underreport how much they really drink -- by a lot. Overall drinking reported to the CDC accounts for only 22% to 32% of alcohol consumption based on state alcohol sales.

Here are the self-reported rates of binge drinking in 2009. Keep in mind that, based on state sales figures, some 70% to 80% of alcohol consumption is not reported.

Rank

State

% of Population Reporting

Binge Drinking in Last Month

1

Tennessee

6.8

2

Utah

8.8

3

West Virginia

9.2

4

Mississippi

10.1

5

Georgia

10.5

6

Alabama

10.7

7

Arkansas

11.3

8

Kentucky

12.4

9

Maryland

12.6

10

South Carolina

12.7

11

New Mexico

12.8

12

North Carolina

12.8

13

Idaho

13.0

14

Oklahoma

13.0

15

Florida

13.3

16

Virginia

13.5

17

Indiana

14.2

18

New Jersey

14.3

19

Louisiana

14.4

20

Kansas

14.5

21

Arizona

14.9

22

Texas

14.9

23

Oregon

15.0

24

Maine

15.1

25

Washington

15.2

26

California

15.8

27

New Hampshire

15.8

28

Wyoming

15.8

29

Ohio

16.1

30

Colorado

16.3

31

New York

16.3

32

Pennsylvania

16.6

33

Hawaii

17.1

34

Michigan

17.1

35

Vermont

17.1

36

Missouri

17.2

37

Montana

17.3

38

Nevada

17.5

39

Massachusetts

17.6

40

Illinois

17.7

41

Alaska

17.9

42

Nebraska

17.9

43

Rhode Island

18.2

44

Delaware

18.5

45

Iowa

18.5

46

Connecticut

19.0

47

South Dakota

19.3

48

District of Columbia

20.1

49

Minnesota

20.2

50

North Dakota

21.4

51

Wisconsin

23.9

The CDC's report on binge drinking appears in a special Oct. 5 early release issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

SOURCES: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Oct. 5, 2010, early release; vol: 59.Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, director, CDC.Robert Brewer, MD, MPH, alcohol team leader, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, CDC.

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