CLEVELAND – Heavy alcohol use among Americans has been on the rise in recent years.
Now, a recent study shows that more than 37 million Americans reported binge-drinking in a year’s time.
Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked at survey results of more than 400,000 Americans.
Not only did they find that 17 percent of U.S. adults were binge-drinking, but that they were doing so an average of 53 times per year – that’s more than once a week.
Experts 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 a person’s blood-alcohol-level (BAC) to .08, which would result in impaired driving.
The study results showed Americans were consuming about seven drinks during each episode of binge-drinking.
“When you consider that the minimum definition of binge-drinking is four or five drinks per two-hour session, this is significantly higher than that and it is with a frequency that should really cause people to sit up and take notice,” said David Streem, M.D., an addiction specialist at Cleveland Clinic, who did not take part in the study.
Dr. Streem said more than half of all drinking-related deaths are caused by binge-drinking.
He said what many people might think of as a fun night out on the town can actually be very risky or in some cases, life-threatening.
While the dangers of getting behind the wheel while intoxicated might seem obvious, Dr. Streem said it’s possible to get injured or even killed after binge-drinking due to falls and other incidents created by poor judgment.
“Because the blood level of the alcohol becomes much higher, you’re exposed much more to the acute toxicity of alcohol,” he said. “The main factor, which causes problems, is in our judgment, our attention, and our reaction time.”
Dr. Streem said that binge-drinking has long-term effects too. 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.
He said the bottom line is that Americans need to drink less.
“Generally speaking, Americans drink too much,” said Dr. Streem. “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.