Binge Drinking in America Is a Serious Public Health Issue, Here’s Why

Binge Drinking in America Is a Serious Public Health Issue, Here’s Why

One out of six US adults binge drinks around four times every month.

Binge drinking is the most expensive, most common and most deadly type of extreme alcohol use in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And it’s a serious health issue for our country—one out of six US adults binge drinks around four times every month.

CDC researchers recently published a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine about Americans and their boozing habits—and the findings were shocking. In 2015, just over 17 percent of US adults admitted to binge drinking. On average, each one had 53.1 binge drinking episodes, involving 7 drinks per binge. That equals a whopping 467 binge drinks per binge drinker annually. 

But what is binge drinking? The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines it as a form of drinking that causes blood alcohol concentration levels to rise to 0.08. For women, this usually happens after about four drinks during a two-hour window, and for men, about five drinks in a two-hour window.

While drinking alcohol in moderation has been touted for having benefits for some people, like improved heart health and lower risk of type 2 diabetes, too much alcohol can pose some serious health risks like:

  • Car crashes
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • High blood pressure
  • Alcohol addiction
  • Certain cancers like breast cancer, throat cancer and liver cancer

What does this mean for America as a whole? What states are drinking the most and what can you do about binge drinking? Social worker Justin Hatch, LCSW, of Ogden Regional Medical Center in Utah, shares some insight.

Stats at a glance
In case the statistics above weren’t convincing enough, here are some other serious numbers from the CDC:

  • Binge drinking is most common among adults ages 18 to 34.
  • Men are twice as likely to binge drink than women.
  • Americans who have a combined household income of more than $75,000 are more likely to binge drink.
  • More than 90 percent of those who binge drink admit that they’ve done it in the last 30 days.

The highest rates of binge drinking in the US are in North Dakota
We know that as a whole, Americans like alcohol. But binge drinking is more prevalent in certain states than others. According to a 2015 CDC report, here are the areas with the highest prevalence of binge drinking:

North Dakota: 24.9 percent
Wisconsin: 24.4 percent
District of Columbia: 24.4 percent
Montana: 21.3 percent
Iowa: 21.3 percent

And when it comes to how many drinks Americans are consuming per binge, Arkansas tops the list:

Arkansas: 8.3 drinks
West Virginia: 7.9 drinks
Missouri: 7.8 drinks
Kentucky: 7.8 drinks
Alaska: 7.8 drinks

Signs of binge drinking
The most obvious sign of binge drinking is abstaining from alcohol for a few days, then drinking four to five drinks within a two-hour time-frame. Other signs include:

  • Drinking more alcohol than you planned to drink.
  • Feeling like you’re unable to stop drinking.
  • Blacking out or having trouble remembering what happened while drinking.
  • Acting dangerously or violently while drinking; getting into fights or having unprotected sex, for example.

Binge drinkers go through three phases
Many people who binge drink may not think they have a problem since they aren’t drinking alcohol all the time. But most people with any sort of addiction goes through a series of phases, says Hatch.

  1. Pre-contemplative phase: He or she hasn’t even recognized that they have a problem.
  2. Contemplative phase: They’ve recognized a problem, but are unsure of whether or not they want to stop.
  3. Preparation phase: They start to prepare to make a change.
  4. Action phase: He or she takes the steps needed to recover.
  5. Maintenance phase: They work to maintain their change and cope with any relapses that may occur.

How to handle the situation depends greatly on which phase you or a loved one is in. But regardless of the phase, it’s best to handle it with caution. “Approach with understanding. In most cases, it’s not beneficial to shame the person or give them ultimatums.”

For those in the pre-contemplative phase, the person has to realize that they have a problem. Hatch says you can start the conversation by saying things like, “I'm concerned about you.”

If someone is in the contemplative or preparation phase, encourage them and help them find the help they need. Try pointing them in the direction of organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous or Smart Recovery, groups that provide reading materials, online worksheets for reflection and in-person meet-ups and counseling.

Here are some of the other ways you or a loved one can work towards getting binge drinking under control:

  • Be mindful of who you spend time with: Try to avoid situations or people who encourage heavy drinking. You may want to limit your time at bars, restaurants and parties, until you feel comfortable abstaining from alcohol while there.
  • Keep a list of reasons you want to stop: Writing down the reasons you want to quit binging can help you stay motivated. You can include things like feeling healthier and more rested, or having a better attitude.
  • Talk to friends and family: Let someone you trust in on what you’re going through. Share the ups and downs with them so they can encourage you along the way, and lift you up on the bad days.
  • Consider taking a break from alcohol: Some binge drinkers find it beneficial to completely abstain from alcohol during the recovery process. If that doesn’t seem like the best option, try limiting how much you drink. You can limit the number of drinks, the type of alcohol you drink or drinking during certain hours of the day.
  • Replace drinking with other activities: During the times you would normally drink, try focusing your energy towards something else that you love, like exercise, a bubble bath or meditation.
  • Reward yourself: When you reach a goal (such as going a week without binge drinking or abstaining from drinking during a social event), treat yourself to something you enjoy, like a manicure, a sporting event or a few hours with a good book.

Binge drinking is on the rise, but is preventable
Binge drinking has become part of American culture—we see it in movies, in theaters, at sporting events and beyond. It’s a growing problem in adults, and college campuses around the country.

But the good news is, there are so many resources to help you or a loved one overcome binge drinking. The first step is realizing that there is a problem. Then, it’s important to talk about the issue with others and find resources to help you work through it.

This article was originally published on February 12, 2018.
This article was updated on March 21, 2018.

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