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Fact Sheets - Binge Drinking

CDC Vital Signs: Binge DrinkingBinge Drinking

Binge drinking is the most common pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. This typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks, and when women consume 4 or more drinks, in about 2 hours.1

Most people who binge drink are not alcohol dependent.

According to national surveys

  • One in six U.S. adults binge drinks about four times a month, consuming about eight drinks per binge.2
  • While binge drinking is more common among young adults aged 18–34 years, binge drinkers aged 65 years and older report binge drinking more often—an average of five to six times a month.2
  • Binge drinking is more common among those with household incomes of $75,000 or more than among those with lower incomes.2
  • Approximately 92% of U.S. adults who drink excessively report binge drinking in the past 30 days.3
  • Although college students commonly binge drink, 70% of binge drinking episodes involve adults age 26 years and older.4
  • The prevalence of binge drinking among men is twice the prevalence among women.2
  • Binge drinkers are 14 times more likely to report alcohol-impaired driving than non-binge drinkers.4
  • About 90% of the alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 in the United States is in the form of binge drinks.5
  • More than half of the alcohol consumed by adults in the United States is in the form of binge drinks.5

Binge drinking is associated with many health problems, including—

  • Unintentional injuries (e.g., car crashes, falls, burns, drowning)
  • Intentional injuries (e.g., firearm injuries, sexual assault, domestic violence)
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Unintended pregnancy
  • Children born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
  • High blood pressure, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases
  • Liver disease
  • Neurological damage
  • Sexual dysfunction, and
  • Poor control of diabetes.

Binge drinking costs everyone.

  • Drinking too much, including binge drinking, cost the United States $223.5 billion in 2006, or $1.90 a drink, from losses in productivity, health care, crime, and other expenses.6
  • Binge drinking cost federal, state, and local governments about 62 cents per drink in 2006, while federal and state income from taxes on alcohol totaled only about 12 cents per drink.6

Evidence-based interventions to prevent binge drinking and related harms7-11 include

  • Increasing alcoholic beverage costs and excise taxes.
  • Limiting the number of retail alcohol outlets that sell alcoholic beverages in a given area.
  • Holding alcohol retailers responsible for the harms caused by their underage or intoxicated patrons (dram shop liability).
  • Restricting access to alcohol by maintaining limits on the days and hours of alcohol retail sales.
  • Consistent enforcement of laws against underage drinking and alcohol-impaired driving.
  • Maintaining government controls on alcohol sales (avoiding privatization).
  • Screening and counseling for alcohol misuse.

References:

  1. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. NIAAA council approves definition of binge drinking [PDF-1.62MB]. NIAAA Newsletter 2004; No. 3, p. 3.
  2. CDC. Vital signs: binge drinking prevalence, frequency, and intensity among adults—U.S., 2010. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2012; 61(1):14 –9.
  3. Town M, Naimi TS, Mokdad AH, Brewer RD. Health care access among U.S. adults who drink alcohol excessively: missed opportunities for prevention. Prev Chronic Dis [serial online] April 2006.
  4. Naimi TS, Brewer RD, Mokdad A, Clark D, Serdula MK, Marks JS. Binge drinking among US adults. JAMA 2003;289(1):70–75.
  5. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Drinking in America: Myths, Realities, and Prevention Policy [PDF-1.08MB]. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2005.
  6. Bouchery EE, Harwood HJ, Sacks JJ, Simon CJ, Brewer RD. Economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in the United States, 2006. Am J Prev Med 2011;41:516–24.
  7. Guide to Community Preventive Services. Preventing excessive alcohol consumption. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011.
  8. Babor TF, Caetano, R., Casswell S, et al. Alcohol and Public Policy: No Ordinary Commodity. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  9. National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2004.
  10. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General, 2007.
  11. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening and behavioral counseling interventions in primary care to reduce alcohol misuse: recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med 2004;140:554–556.
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