Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is a serious but preventable public health problem.

Binge drinking is the most common, costly, and deadly pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States.1,2,3 Binge drinking is defined as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g/dl or above. This typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks or women consume 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours.4 Most people who binge drink do not have a severe alcohol use disorder.1

Who binge drinks?

Prevalence of binge drinking by age group, 2015. This bar graph depicts the percentage of the total U.S.  population  age  high  school  and  up  who  report  binge  drinking.  The  percentage  value  for  each  category  is  as  follows:  high  school  students grades 9-12  are  17.7  percent,  ages  18-24  are  25.1  percent,  ages  25-34  are  25.7  percent,  ages  35-44  are  19.6  percent,  ages  45-64  are  13.7 percent,  and  ages  65  and  up  are  4.6  percent.

Data sources: CDC. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System and Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2015.

  • One in six US adults binge drinks about four times a month, consuming about seven drinks per binge. This results in 17 billion total binge drinks consumed by adults annually, or 467 binge drinks per binge drinker.5
  • Binge drinking is most common among younger adults aged 18–34 years, but more than half of the total binge drinks are consumed by those aged 35 and older.5
  • Binge drinking is twice as common among men than among women. Four in five total binge drinks are consumed by men.5
  • Binge drinking is more common among people with household incomes of $75,000 or more and higher educational levels. Binge drinkers with lower incomes and educational levels, however, consume more binge drinks per year.5
  • Over 90% of U.S. adults who drink excessively report binge drinking in the past 30 days.1
  • Most people younger than age 21 who drink alcohol report binge drinking, often consuming large amounts.6,7

Binge drinking has serious risks.

There are about 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths a year in the US. These can be prevented.

Binge drinking is associated with many health problems,8–10 including the following:

  • Unintentional injuries such as car crashes, falls, burns, and alcohol poisoning.
  • Violence including homicide, suicide, intimate partner violence, and sexual assault.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Unintended pregnancy and poor pregnancy outcomes, including miscarriage and stillbirth.
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
  • Sudden infant death syndrome.
  • Chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and liver disease.
  • Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon.
  • Memory and learning problems.
  • Alcohol use disorders.

Read more about the CDC study that found that excessive drinking in the U.S is a drain on the American economy.

Binge drinking costs everyone.

  • Drinking too much, including binge drinking, cost the United States $249 billion in 2010, or $2.05 a drink. These costs resulted from losses in workplace productivity, health care expenditures, criminal justice costs, and other expenses. Binge drinking was responsible for 77% of these costs, or $191 billion.2
Preventing Binge Drinking

The Community Preventive Services Task Force external iconrecommends evidence-based interventions to prevent binge drinking and related harms.11 Recommended strategies include:

  • Using pricing strategies, including increasing alcohol 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 illegal alcohol sales to minors or intoxicated patrons (dram shop liability).
  • Restricting access to alcohol by maintaining limits on the days and hours of alcohol retail sales.
  • Consistently enforcing laws against underage drinking and alcohol-impaired driving.
  • Maintaining government controls on alcohol sales (avoiding privatization).

The US Preventive Services Task Forceexternal icon also recommends screening and counseling for alcohol misuse in medical settings.

  1. Esser MB, Hedden SL, Kanny D, Brewer RD, Gfroerer JC, Naimi TS. Prevalence of alcohol dependence among US adult drinkers, 2009–2011. Prev Chronic Dis. 2014;11:140329. doi:
  2. Sacks JJ, Gonzales KR, Bouchery EE, Tomedi LE, Brewer RD. 2010 national and state costs of excessive alcohol consumptionexternal icon. Am J Prev Med. 2015;49(5):e73–e79.
  3. Stahre M, Roeber J, Kanny D, Brewer RD, Zhang X. Contribution of excessive alcohol consumption to deaths and years of potential life lost in the United States. Prev Chronic Dis 2014;11:130293. doi:
  4. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. NIAAA council approves definition of binge drinking pdf icon[PDF – 1.62MB]external icon. NIAAA Newsletter. 2004;3:3.
  5. Kanny D, Naimi TS, Liu Y, Lu H, Brewer RD. Annual Total Binge Drinks Consumed by U.S. Adults, 2015external icon. Am J Prev Med 2018;54:486–496.
  6. Esser MB, Clayton H, Demissie Z, Kanny D, Brewer RD. Current and Binge Drinking among High School Students – United States, 1991–2015. MMWR 2017;66:474-478.
  7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Report to Congress on the Prevention and Reduction of Underage Drinking.external icon. Washington, DC: HHS; 2017.
  8. World Health Organization. Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health—2018external icon. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2018.
  9. Naimi TS, Lipscomb LE, Brewer RD, Colley BG. Binge drinking in the preconception period and the risk of unintended pregnancy: Implications for women and their childrenexternal icon. 2003;11(5):1136–1141.
  10. Iyasu S, Randall LL, Welty TK, et al. Risk factors for sudden infant death syndrome among northern plains Indiansexternal icon. 2002;288(21):2717–2723.
  11. Community Preventive Services Task Force. The Guide to Community Preventive Services. Excessive Alcohol Consumption websiteexternal icon. Accessed May 26, 2017.