Heavy alcohol use among Americans has been on the rise in recent years. One dangerous aspect of the trend: binge-drinking. One recent study shows that more than 37 million Americans reported binge-drinking in a year’s time.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
In the study, researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently looked at survey results of more than 400,000 Americans. They found that 17 percent of U.S. adults were binge-drinking, and doing so an average of 53 times per year — that’s more than once a week.
The CDC researchers define a binge-drinking episode as at least four drinks for women or five drinks for men within a two-hour period. This is enough to raise the blood-alcohol-level to .08, which would result in impaired driving.
The study results showed Americans were consuming about seven drinks during each episode of binge-drinking.
Not a fun night out
“When you consider that the minimum definition of binge-drinking is four or five drinks per two-hour session, this is significantly higher,” says addiction specialist David Streem, MD. Dr. Streem did not take part in the study. “This is a frequency that is remarkable.”
What many people might think of as a fun night out on the town can be very risky — or in some cases, life-threatening, he says. More than half of all drinking-related deaths are caused by binge-drinking, Dr. Streem says.
While the dangers of getting behind the wheel while intoxicated might seem obvious, Dr. Streem says it’s possible to get injured or even killed after binge-drinking because of falls and other incidents that occur because of poor judgment.
“The main factors that cause problems is in our judgment, our attention, and our reaction time,” he says.
Binge-drinking has long-term effects, too, Dr. Streem says. Drinking to excess will eventually lead to liver problems and stomach problems. Also, large amounts of alcohol consumed over a long period of time can negatively impact the parts of the brain that deal with judgment, balance and coordination.
“Because the blood level of the alcohol becomes much higher with binge drinking, you’re much more exposed to the acute toxicity of alcohol,” he says.
He said the bottom line is that Americans need to drink less alcohol.
“Generally speaking, Americans drink too much,” Dr. Streem says. “We would be well-served as a nation, both in terms of our health and safety, and our quality of life, if we drank less.”
Complete results of the study can be found in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.