October 5th, 2010
05:40 PM ET
More than one in four high school students and adults aged 18 to 34 years had at least one episode of binge drinking a month, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Specifically, 2 out of 3 high school students and almost 1 in 3 adults who drink alcohol also binge drink, the CDC said. Binge drinking is a serious health problem no matter how often people engage in the practice according to Dr.Robert Brewer, study author and alcohol prevention expert at the CDC. "Binge drinking at any level is associated with increase harm to health– similar to smoking– any is undesirable," he said.
"90 percent of the alcohol consumed by high school kids is consumed in the course of binge drinking and more than half of the alcohol consumed by adults is consumed in the course of binge drinking," said CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden.
Binge drinking is defined as 4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more for men, consumed quickly over about 2 hours.
"We estimate that at least 15% of U.S. adults or 33 million men and women reported binge drinking one or more times in the past month," Brewer told reporters. The rate has not declined during the past 15 years, according to the report.
More than 80 percent of binge drinkers do not meet the medical criteria for being alcohol dependent, Brewer said, so they may not believe their drinking habits are a health risk. This is why the CDC wants to raise awareness about these health risks, he added.
Excessive alcohol use, including binge drinking, is the third leading cause of preventable death in America, according to the CDC. More than 79,000 lives are cut short by alcohol each year.
People who binge drink put themselves at higher risk for fatal car crashes, drug overdoses, violence and contracting sexually transmitted diseases. The long-term health consequences are just as dire. Drinking in excess can damage the liver and increase the risk of stroke, heart disease and certain cancers. Heavy drinking can also lead to unintended pregnancies; drinking when pregnant is dangerous for the fetus.
Men are twice as likely as women to binge drink– about 21 percent of males compared to 10 percent of females, according to the CDC study. Binge drinking also is more common among whites and Hispanics (about 16 percent each) compared to blacks (10 percent).
The study also found higher rates of binge drinking among those earning more $75,000 a year and those with at least a high school diploma.
The CDC based its findings on self reported data in: The 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (412,000 adults 18 and older) and the 2009 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (16,000 high school students).
"Even though we're reporting quite high rates of binge drinking among adults and youth, I think there is good reason to believe it is significantly underreported," Brewer said.
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