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Americans Binge Drinking at a Higher Rate, Especially Women

beer-glassesThe rates of American binge drinking have risen between 2002 and 2012, according to a study published by the American Journal of Public Health. Heavy drinking among Americans rose 17.2 percent and most of that can be attributed to young women. Women binging has increased by 36 percent, while among men it rose 23 percent. Overall, men still binge drink more than women.

The study is by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington and was published Thursday.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines heavy drinking as exceeding an average of one drink per day during the past month for women and two drinks per day for men.

Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men on a single occasion at least once during the past month.

The CDC considers excessive drinking to be 15 or more drinks per week for a man and 8 or more drinks per week for a woman.

The percentage of people drinking isn’t going up, but rather it is the number of people who binge drink, and this is a serious public heath problem.

According to the CDC, binge drinking is associated with many health problems, including but not limited to:

  • Unintentional injuries (e.g., car crashes, falls, burns, drowning)
  • Sexually transmitted diseases and accidental pregnancies
  • High blood pressure, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases
  • Intentional injuries (e.g., firearm injuries, sexual assault, domestic violence)
  • Liver disease
  • Neurological damage
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Poor control of diabetes

It is an expensive public health matter as binge drinking costs federal, state, and local governments (crime, hospital visits, etc..) about 62 cents per drink in 2006, while federal and state income from taxes on alcohol totaled only about 12 cents per drink.

Geographically, the prevalence of drinking of any kind varies; in New York City the prevalence of 58 percent is higher than the national average of 49 percent. Fulton county, Georgia, which holds its most populous city, Atlanta, has a rate of 55 percent. However, Madison County in Idaho (which boasts a large Mormon population) drinks the least in the nation with a mere 5.9 percent rate.

Social norms do play a role, according to the study’s authors. It is more acceptable for women to drink nowadays, especially in public. College students as well as the more affluent tend to drink more, too.

“It seems like women are trying to catch up to the men in binge drinking,” Ali Mokdad, a lead author of the study, told Kaiser Health News. “It’s really, really scary.”

However the worst offenders are still middle-aged white men.

S.C. Rhyne is a blogger and novelist in New York City. Follow the author on Twitter @ReporterandGirl, and visit her website at

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