TIME – 4 Reasons Binge Drinking Is a Public Health Problem

  • Post category:World News

Binge Drinking in America

One out of 3 adults and 2 out of 3 high school students who drink alcohol binge drink, according to recent government surveys. Startlingly, the data suggest that 90% of the alcohol consumed by high-school kids and more than half the alcohol consumed by adults is downed during the course of binge drinking. What’s with Americans’ overindulgence?

“Binge drinking as a problem has been largely unrecognized,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in a press conference. “It may be because binge drinking hasn’t been widely recognized as a problem that it has not decreased in the past 15 years in this country.”

The CDC surveys defined binge drinking as having had five or more drinks in a couple of hours for men and teens, and four or more for women, at least once in the previous 30 days. But Frieden says the average binge drinker consumes a lot more alcohol than that – more like eight drinks in a sitting, about once a week. Worse, another recent study suggests that people aren’t even fully admitting to their drinking behavior, finding that government survey data identifies only 22% to 32% of presumed alcohol consumption based on states’ alcohol sales.

The short-term personal cost of excessive drinking is high – as anyone who’s ever suffered a nasty hangover knows – but the public-health consequences are costly too. Dangerous driving, assault, risky sexual behavior and long-term illness are just some of the larger problems that result from binging on alcohol.

Car Crashes

When drunk people get behind the wheel, they put countless others at risk. And binge drinkers are 14 times more likely than non-binge drinkers to drive while impaired, according to a 2003 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, contributing to the risk of fatal car crashes.

Interestingly, another study in 2010 concluded that cognitive deficits from chronic binge drinking actually impaired sober driving as well. Researchers found that binge drinkers – independent of income levels – exceeded speed limits more often and for longer, compared with high-income non-binge drinkers.

According to a 2008 CDC assessment, 32% of all traffic accidents were related to alcohol.

Assault and Violence

Among college students alone – 80% of whom drink, including 51% who binge drink – an estimated 700,000 are attacked by another student in alcohol-related incidents, according to a survey by the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Nearly 100,000 college women also report being sexually assaulted in attacks that involve drinking, although experts suggest that number is far higher in reality, since sexual assault is notoriously underreported.

Off campus, older adults suffer just as much: two-thirds of episodes of domestic violence involves alcohol, according to Bureau of Justice statistics. And 45% of men arrested for violent assault of any kind report drinking first.

Long-Term Illness and Death

Assault and accidents, which lead to death and injury, account for the acute problems of excessive drinking. But, over time, chronic binge drinking is also associated with a variety of long-term health problems. According to Dr. Bob Brewer of the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, those problems include cirrhosis of the liver, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, cancer and an increased risk of sexually transmitted disease.

A study in the Medical Journal of Australia found that 42% of alcohol-related deaths could be attributed to chronic illness.

Chronic binge drinking can lead to cognitive deficits as well. A 2009 study in Psychological Bulletin found that young binge drinkers had verbal and auditory memory deficits, difficulty with spatial memory and problems with planning, compared with non-binge drinkers.

Overall, the new CDC study finds that from 2001 to 2005, binge drinking was responsible for more than half of the estimated 79,000 deaths and two-thirds of the estimated 2.3 million years of potential life lost each year as a result of excessive drinking.

Unintended Pregnancy and STDs

Binge drinking leads to risky sexual behavior, including engaging in unprotected sex and sex with multiple partners. That in turn increases rates of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. A 2008 study of sexual behavior and binge drinking found that rates of gonorrhea were nearly five times higher in female binge drinkers than in women who abstained from alcohol.

The risk of unintended pregnancy is also associated with binge drinking, particularly in young people. A large-scale study published in Pediatrics in 2003 looked at nearly 73,000 pregnancies that resulted in live birth in 14 states. Surveys of the mothers showed that 45% of the pregnancies were unintended, and that women with unintended pregnancy were much more likely to have engaged in binge drinking in the three months before becoming pregnant than women with intended pregnancy.

Overall, 14% of women reported preconception binge drinking, and the relationship between binge drinking and unintended pregnancy varied by race: white women who reported unplanned pregnancy were 63% more likely to have binge drank before getting pregnant than white women who planned their pregnancies; the same effect was not seen in black women, however.

Women who reported binge drinking in the three-month period before pregnancy were more likely to be white and unmarried. They were also more likely to smoke and be exposed to violence before conception, and to consume alcohol, binge drink and smoke during pregnancy.


Source: TIME, 13/10/10
Journalist: Meredith Melnick