TUESDAY, Jan. 10 (HealthDay News) -- An estimated 38 million American adults are binge drinkers -- defined as men who down five or more drinks at a sitting and women who consume four or more drinks at one time, federal researchers reported Tuesday.
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Of the 17 percent of Americans who engage in binge drinking, most are 18 to 24 years old. But those 65 and older engage in the practice more often, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And those numbers may underestimate the scope of the problem, officials said.
"Binge drinking remains a common and largely unrecognized public health problem," Ursula Bauer, director of CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, said during a midday news conference.
What's more, binge drinking accounts for more than 40,000 of the 80,000 alcohol-related deaths each year in the country, and represents about 75 percent of the more than $200 billion in costs from alcohol abuse, the researchers reported.
"This level of consumption usually leads to impairment and is strongly associated with alcohol-impaired driving, risky sexual behavior and interpersonal violence," Bauer said. "Over time, it can also increase the risk of serious health problems, including cancer, heart disease and liver failure."
For the study, CDC researchers looked at 2010 data on binge drinking. The researches found that about 17 percent of Americans are binge drinkers, and they binge drink more than four times a month, usually drinking nearly eight drinks each time.
Most binge drinkers (28.2 percent) are 18 to 24, and they drink the most -- more than nine drinks each time, according to the report.
But it's those aged 65 and over who binge drink most often -- nearly six times a month, the researchers found.
"We know this to be a substantial underestimate of what actual binge drinking is, because people tend to under-report their drinking behavior," Dr. Robert Brewer, the Alcohol Program Lead at CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, said during the news conference.
"We are really capturing maybe 30 percent of consumption based on alcohol sales. So this is a big problem we are underestimating," he added.
Most binge drinkers have incomes of $75,000 or more, but those whose incomes are below $25,000 drink the most (8.5 drinks each time) and most often (five times a month), the researchers said.
Binge drinking also varies by state, ranging from 10.9 percent in 17 states, including California, Florida and New Jersey, to 25.6 percent in 13 states, including Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania, the report found.
"In some states where fewer people binge drink -- like Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Carolina and Utah -- binge drinkers report consuming more drinks when they do binge," Bauer said.
The report also found that most drunk drivers are binge drinkers.
Of all the alcohol consumed by adults, more than 50 percent is consumed while binge drinking; among teens that rises to 90 percent, the report said.
Commenting on the report Dr. J.C. Garbutt, a professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said that "alcohol is very much a part of the U.S. culture, but it also causes considerable death and illness."
Eight drinks will produce intoxication and greatly increase the risk for accidents and can contribute to behavioral problems such as loss of emotional control and depression, he said.
"It is important that individuals know that excessive drinking can have both immediate and long-term negative consequences and it is in their interest to moderate their alcohol use," Garbutt said.
To learn more about binge drinking, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Copyright © 2012 HealthDay. All rights reserved.
SOURCES: J.C. Garbutt, M.D., professor, psychiatry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Jan. 10, 2012, teleconfrence with: Ursula Bauer, Ph.D., M.P.H., director, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Robert Brewer, M.D., M.P.H., Alcohol Program Lead, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, both at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Jan. 10, 2012, Vital Signs: Binge Drinking Prevalence, Frequency, and Intensity Among Adults--United States, 2010