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Binge Drinking: A Serious, Under-Recognized Problem Among Women and Girls

According to a new Vital Signs report, more than 14 million U.S. women binge drink about 3 times a month, and consume an average of 6 drinks per binge. Drinking too much, including binge drinking (defined for women as consuming 4 or more drinks on an occasion) results in about 23,000 deaths in women and girls each year and increases the chances of breast cancer, heart disease, sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy, and many other health problems.

Despite these risks, about 1 in 8 adult women and 1 in 5 high school girls binge drink. Binge drinking is a problem for all women and girls, but it is most common in high school girls and young women, whites and Hispanics, and among women with household incomes of $75,000 or more. Half of all high school girls who drink alcohol report binge drinking.

Drinking too much can seriously affect the health of women and girls.

Women's and girls' bodies respond to alcohol differently than men's. It takes less alcohol for them to get intoxicated because of their size and how they process alcohol. Binge drinking can lead to unintended pregnancies, and women and girls who are not expecting to get pregnant may not find out they are until later in their pregnancy. If women binge drink while pregnant, they risk exposing their baby to high levels of alcohol during its early development, which can lead to miscarriage, low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).

Alcohol use and pregnancy don't mix; it is not safe to drink at any time during pregnancy.

Drinking behavior is influenced by your community and your relationships.

Photo: Glasses of alcoholAlcohol use in a community is affected by its price and availability. Youth drinking behavior is affected by exposure to alcohol marketing. Youth drinking is also influenced by the drinking behavior of adults; youth often try to behave like young adults, and often get alcohol from adults.

What is binge drinking?

Binge drinking is a dangerous drinking pattern that is defined as the consumption of 4 or more alcohol drinks for women (or 5 or more drinks for men) on an occasion. An occasion is generally considered to be about 2-3 hours. Binge drinking usually leads to acute impairment (intoxication), but most binge drinkers are not alcoholics or dependent on alcohol.

What is moderate drinking?

If you choose to drink, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend drinking in moderation, defined as up to 1 drink a day for women or up to 2 drinks a day for men. Youth younger than the minimum legal drinking age of 21 and women who are pregnant should not drink at all. It is not recommended that anyone begin drinking alcohol or drink more frequently on the basis of potential health benefits.

What are effective ways to prevent binge drinking among women and girls?

The Guide to Community Preventive Services recommends evidence-based strategies for preventing excessive alcohol consumption, including—

  • Increasing alcohol taxes.
  • Reducing alcohol outlet density (the number and concentration of alcohol retailers in an area).
  • Maintaining existing government controls over alcohol sales (avoiding privatization).
  • Holding alcohol retailers liable for injuries or damage following illegal service to intoxicated or underage customers (dram shop liability).
  • Maintaining or reducing the days and hours of alcohol sales.
  • Enhanced enforcement of laws prohibiting sales to minors.
  • Electronic screening and counseling for excessive alcohol use.

The strategies that are effective at preventing excessive alcohol consumption in women and girls are the same strategies that are effective for the entire population.

Health care providers should consider asking all patients about binge drinking and advising those who do to drink less. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends screening and counseling to reduce alcohol misuse by adults, including pregnant women, in primary care settings.

  • Page last reviewed: January 8, 2013
  • Page last updated: January 8, 2013
  • Content source:
    • Office of the Associate Director for Communication
    • Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication
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