Drinking glasses
A recently released report indicates that almost a quarter of Americans engage in binge drinking. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

A recently released survey on drug and alcohol use asserts that up to one in four Americans engages in binge drinking in some fashion. Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks in a single period of time, and it is most common among young adults.

Young adults at greatest risk of binge drinking

Binge drinking is defined by the Centers for Disease Control as consumption of five or more drinks in a single sitting. A newly released report, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, found that 23.7 percent of Americans reported having engaged in binge drinking in the month before the survey, according to USA Today. The NSDUH is released annually, and this year’s report is based on data collected in 2008 to 2009. The survey found that adults between the ages of 18 and 34 engaged in binge drinking the most. Among young adults age 18 to 25, 41.7 percent reported binge drinking in the previous 30 days before they took the survey. Adults aged 21 to 25 had the highest prevalence for the behavior; 46.5 percent reported binge drinking.

Underage use declining slightly

Alcohol use among teenagers declined from 2002 to 2009, but the decline was less pronounced among older teens. Underage drinking among teens 16 to 17 declined from 32.6 percent in 2002 to 26.3 percent in 2009, but underage drinking in teens 18 to 20 only declined from 51 percent to 49.7 percent. In 2009, 10.4 million people ages 12 to 20 reported using alcohol, or 27.3 percent of the survey population. Almost 50 percent of teens aged 18 to 20 report using alcohol. College students were found to drink more than those not enrolled. Overall, the survey results indicate people start drinking more regularly around the age of 18 and increase their intake until about age 25, and continually drink less as they age. The CDC states on its page on binge drinking that most people who binge drink are not alcohol dependent.

Social problem or business as usual

The French city of Lyon is experimenting with a nighttime ban of retail sales of alcohol, according to the Guardian, to combat a growing trend of binge drinking among youth. According to Medscape, Chinese officials are growing concerned about binge drinking among middle-aged men. British newspapers have a continuous stream of articles about a seemingly pandemic scourge of binge drinking in the U.K., especially the Daily Mail. The health effects of heavy alcohol use are well known. Continued heavy use can lead to weight gain, heart disease, impaired liver function and even cirrhosis. However, drinking has taken place for the entire span of human history, and most scholars say that consumption in the past century or so has plummeted worldwide.


USA Today: http://yourlife.usatoday.com/health/story/2011/07/Binge-drinking-drug-use-more-common-than-thought/49547682/1

Centers for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm

National Survey on Drug Use and Health: http://oas.samhsa.gov/NSDUH/2k9NSDUH/2k9Results.htm

The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/17/lyon-reduce-le-binge-drinking

Medscape: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/746761

Daily Mail series on binge drinking in the UK: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-302531/Special-report-Binge-drinking.html

For more on the history of alcohol and human societies, see “Forces of Habit” by David Courtwright.

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