Binge drinking rates among women went up 17.5 percent between 2005 and 2012, according to a new study. (Photo: Getty Images)
Here’s a sobering fact: Binge drinking is on the rise in the U.S., particularly in women, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines binge drinking as consuming four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men on a single occasion, generally in about two hours.
The 10-year study, which looked at people 21 and older, found that more than 18 percent of Americans were binge drinkers in 2012 — up from nearly 9 percent in 2005. Women in particular were hitting the bottle hard: Nationwide, women showed a much faster rise in binge drinking than men, with rates of women binge drinking going up by 17.5 percent between 2005 and 2012. Meanwhile, men’s rates of binge drinking rose by less than 5 percent.
The results were alarming to the lead author of the study, Ali Mokdad, PhD, professor of global health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.“We were surprised, especially that women have [more than] double the rates of increased drinking as men,” Mokdad tells Yahoo Health. “It’s really scary.”
Heavy drinking — consuming eight or more drinks per week for women and 15 drinks or more per week for men, according to the CDC — among Americans has also gone up sharply, up by 17.2 percent since 2005.
The study, which is the first to track trends in alcohol use at the county level, also found that binge drinking and heavy drinking were more common in certain geographical areas of the U.S. The town of Menomonie, Wisconsin, has the dubious “honor“ of ranking the highest in the nation for binge drinking in 2012, with 36 percent of residents falling into that category. Meanwhile, Esmeralda County, Nevada, reported the largest number of heavy drinkers (22.4 percent) in the study.
Mokdad says there are three main reasons that are likely driving this spike in binge drinking:
Socioeconomic factors, such as money and education level, which influence healthy (or not-so-healthy) behaviors.
Easy access to bars, such as towns that have bars clustered near each other that make it easy to bar-hop, compared with towns with bars that are miles apart or that close early, thereby limiting access to alcohol.
Social norms — namely, cultural acceptance of alcohol, as well as the people in your social circle and how much they drink, which influences your behavior. “Just as smokers tend to hang out with other smokers, people tend to do these behaviors jointly,” says Mokdad.
As far as the surge in the number of women binge drinking, Mokdad points out that a similar rise was seen with smoking. “Tobacco use in this country went up in men and then women peaked after, catching up and closing the gap,” he says. “When [the rate of smoking] started leveling with men, it was still going up with women and then leveled out later.”
The challenge with cutting back on drinking is that it’s a popular part of our culture, and people turn to booze to both celebrate and commiserate. “We work hard and go out for a drink,” says Mokdad. “We succeed [at something], we drink. We fail at something, we drink. The economy goes up, we drink. It goes down, we drink."
But there are several good reasons to try to get binge drinking and heavy drinking under control: Excessive alcohol consumption comes with health consequences both now and later. In the short-term, excessive alcohol consumption ups the risk of car crashes, domestic violence, and risky sexual behavior, such as not using birth control and exposing someone to a sexually transmitted disease. In the long-term, heavy drinking can increase the risk of miscarriage and having a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome and is associated with high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, and an increased risk of certain cancer, including breast and colon cancer, according to the CDC.
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