CDC: 1 in 6 U.S. Adults Is a Binge Drinker

Problem More Widespread Than Thought, Linked to Car Crashes, Violence, STDs, Death

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on January 10, 2012
From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 10, 2012 -- About 1 in 6 U.S. adults binge drinks, according to a new CDC report. That's 38 million people who overindulge.

They do so an average of about four times a month, sometimes downing eight drinks at a sitting.

"Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks on one occasion for a woman and five or more drinks for a man," says Ursula Bauer, PhD, MPH, director of the CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. She spoke at a news conference today discussing the new research.

"Binge drinking is most common among 18- to 34-year-olds,'' she says. They average about 9.3 drinks each occasion.

However, the researchers found that those age 65 and over who did report binge drinking tended to binge drink more often -- five or six times a month.

The new data is published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Who Binge Drinks?

Among the other findings:

  • The income group making more than $75,000 a year has the most binge drinkers.
  • Those making less than $25,000 binge the most often and have an average of eight to nine drinks each occasion.
  • Habits vary from state to state. About 11% of Utah adults binge drink. Nearly 26% of Wisconsin residents do.

A Serious Problem

Robert Brewer, MD, MPH, the alcohol program lead at the CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, calls the new findings ''alarming."

Excess alcohol use, including binge drinking, is responsible for about 80,000 deaths annually in the U.S., the CDC says. It cost the economy about $223.5 billion in 2006.

Binge drinking increases the chances of getting hurt or hurting others, the researchers say. It is linked with car accidents, violence, and suicide. It increases the risk of unplanned pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It can also lead to alcohol dependence, according to the CDC.

Perhaps surprisingly, however, "most binge drinkers are not alcoholics or alcohol-dependent," Bauer says.

The data on binge drinking come from the 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. The report looked at self-reports of binge drinking within the past 30 days. It polled more than 450,000 U.S. adults 18 and above.

Brewer says the problem of binge drinking is probably even more widespread. People tend to under-report their drinking. In other studies, researchers have compared self-reports of alcohol intake to sales. They found the self-reports capture only 30% of actual intake, he says.

Brewer doesn't think the problem is driven by a bad economy, although the study didn't focus on that. "We haven't seen an appreciable impact of the economy on binge drinking rates," he says.

Show Sources


Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Jan. 10, 2012.

CDC telebriefing, Jan. 10, 2012.

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