Jan. 8, 2013 -- Binge drinking is a prevalent and often-underestimated problem among U.S. women and girls that frequently starts in high school, a new report from the CDC shows.
The report found that nearly 14 million women in the U.S. binge drink about three times a month, having on average six drinks per binge.
The CDC defined binge drinking as drinking four or more drinks per occasion.
The highest frequency and intensity of binge drinking (at 3.6 episodes per month and 6.4 drinks per occasion) was reported by women between 18 and 24 years of age.
However, the prevalence of binge drinking among women and high school girls did not vary much with age, as about 20% of high school girls, 24% of women 18 to 24 years old, and 20% of those 25 to 34 years old all reported binge drinking.
"Binge drinking is a serious and unrecognized problem among women and girls, and it is associated with a wide range of health issues including violence, injury, sexually transmitted disease, and unwanted pregnancy," CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, said during a press conference.
"Fortunately, there are effective things that all of us can do to prevent it: Parents can prevent youth from beginning and continuing to drink in a harmful pattern; states and communities have guidelines that are effective at reducing binge drinking; and doctors and other health care professionals can ask patients about their drinking, because even a brief counseling session can make a big difference in helping prevent progression to binge drinking."
The study is published in the Jan. 8 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Prevalence Higher in Whites
The CDC analyzed data from the 2011 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. They also analyzed data from the 2011 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey to gauge alcohol use and binge drinking among U.S. high school girls in grades 9 to 12.
The definition of binge drinking used in that study was five drinks or more per occasion, not four drinks or more, as was used to assess prevalence rates in the new report.
Thus, if anything, the prevalence of binge drinking detailed in the new report is an underestimation of the real rates of binge drinking among women and girls, as Frieden indicated.
In 2011, the overall prevalence of binge drinking among women 18 or older in the U.S. was 12.5%.
The prevalence of binge drinking was highest among non-Hispanic white women, but the frequency and intensity of binge drinking was similar across racial and ethnic groups.
Binge drinking also increased with household income. It was highest among women whose annual household income reached $75,000 a year or more.
Among high school girls, Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites were most likely to report binge drinking at about 22% for each group.
Higher Blood Alcohol
The higher the school grade, the more likely girls who reported current alcohol use were to binge drink, at 45% in grade 9 to almost 62% in grade 12.
Over half of high school girls who reported current alcohol use also reported binge drinking.
"Binge drinking is not a new problem among women and girls, but there are special concerns about binge drinking among them," Robert Brewer, MD, MPH, of the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, said during the same telebriefing.
Women and girls, for example, metabolize alcohol differently than men, and they reach higher blood-alcohol levels for the same amount of alcohol drunk.
They are also at risk for not just short-term harmful effects from binge drinking, but long-term risks including breast cancer.
Women with unintended pregnancies as a result of binge drinking tend not to recognize that they are pregnant, CDC authors observe.
Binge drinking during pregnancy is therefore potentially associated with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which clearly has long-term consequences for the infant as well.
For more information about binge drinking, visit the CDC’s Alcohol and Public Health web site.