CDC: 15% of U.S. binge drinks

January 30, 2012

A known problem on college campuses is pretty widespread across the nation, and it takes a toll on health and the economy.

America has a sizeable population – more than 38 million adults – that binge drinks about four times a month on average. 

Surprised?  We think plenty of people will be by this behavior’s prevalence, and the toll it takes on public health and quality of life. As detailed in a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and The Lewin Group, binge drinking is defined as four or more alcoholic beverages per two-hour occasion for women or five or more drinks per two-hour occasion for men. 

While about 15% of U.S. adults say they binge drink (most are not alcohol dependent), the study drills down to find:
•    The age group with the most binge drinkers is 18 to 34.
•    The age group that binge drinks most often is 65 and older.
•    The income group with the most binge drinkers is $75,000+ annually.
•    The income group that binge drinks most often and drinks the most per binge is less than $25,000 annually.
•    More than half of the alcohol that adults drink is while binge drinking.
•    More than 90% of the alcohol that youth drink is while binge drinking.
•    Approximately 92% of U.S. adults who drink excessively report binge drinking in the past 30 days.
•    Although college students commonly binge drink, 70% of binge drinking episodes involve adults 26 and older.

The national cost of excessive alcohol consumption is devastating:  $223.5 billion in 2006 (the latest economic figures available), stated the report, which pegged nearly 75% of this expense to binge drinking. That’s about $1.90 per drink or $746 for every man, woman and child in the U.S. The costs show up in: lost workplace productivity (72%), health care expenses (11%), criminal justice (9%) and motor vehicle crashes (6%).  “Drinking too much causes 80,000 deaths in the U.S. each year and contributes to over 54 different injuries and diseases,” the report said.

It wouldn’t surprise us at The Lempert Report if such compelling data led to legislative efforts to raise alcoholic beverage costs and excise taxes – in a bid to curb access, or at least to help keep alcohol in the hands of more responsible adults who are exercising free choice rather than succumbing to peer pressure. Supermarkets and other retail sellers of alcohol might want to consider voluntary programs they could participate in, such as seminars in schools and colleges, or supporting groups like SADD and MADD.