Overall binge drinking and heavy drinking is on the rise in the U.S., and rapidly growing rates of drinking among women are a big part of the reason, according to a new study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.
Since 2005, heavy drinking among both women and men in the U.S. has increased by 17.2 percent since 2005. Binge drinking has risen by 8.9 percent overall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines heavy drinking as more than one drink for women or two drinks for men every day. Binge drinking refers to high alcohol consumption over a short period of time—four drinks for women or five drinks for men on a single occasion.
Binge Drinking Up 17.5 Percent Among Women
The 8.9-percent increase in nationwide binge drinking was largely fueled by a very rapid increase in binge drinking among women. Among men, rates of binge drinking increased only 4.9 percent between 2005 and 2012. However, the rate of binge drinking among women increased by 17.5 percent in the same period of time.
Binge drinking and heavy drinking are on the rise despite the fact that the overall rate of people drinking alcohol has remained the same. In 2005, 56 percent of people in the U.S. consumed any amount of alcohol, and the percentage was the same in 2012.
Binge drinking and heavy drinking are both associated with health risks that are not present with moderate drinking. The risks associated with binge drinking have to do with extremely high levels of intoxication, such as physical injury, acute organ damage and alcohol poisoning. In contrast, heavy drinking is associated with long-term health risks such as liver damage and cardiovascular disease.
Regional Differences Within States
In addition to revealing the rapid rise in binge drinking among women, the IHME study also looked at rates of heavy drinking and binge drinking at the county level across the United States. Menominee County, Wisconsin, was found to have the highest level of binge drinking, at 36 percent, while Esmeralda County, Nevada, was found to have the highest level of heavy drinking, at 22.4 percent. The lowest level of binge drinking was found in Madison County, Idaho, (5.9 percent) while the lowest level of heavy drinking were found in Hancock County, Tennessee.
In many of the counties surveyed during the course of this study, at least a quarter of the population reported binge drinking. This is the first study to track alcohol consumption at the county level in the U.S., and the researchers believe that the results highlight areas not only where binge drinking and heavy drinking are huge problems, but where the numbers would otherwise be disguised by lower (although still troublingly high) national figures.
The IHME researchers found that there are often significant regional differences in binge drinking and heavy drinking rates even in the same state. For example, binge drinking rates in Texas ranged from as low as 10.8 percent in Collingsworth County to as high as 35.5 percent in Loving County. In Nevada, rates of heavy drinking range from 6.8 percent in Lander County to 22.2 percent in Esmeralda County, while in Colorado, rates of heavy drinking range from 1.6 percent in Kiowa County to 19.7 percent in Summit County.