Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Binge" Drinking: Not just having a good time

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a fascinating report on binge drinking in the United States.  I have been concerned about the increase in this behavior amongst our local youth, but it appears that drinking to excess is a problem that affects many Americans of all ages.

First, I want to be clear by what I mean by "binge drinking."  When I use the term, I mean having five or more drinks in a row where a "drink" is an ounce of hard liquor, 12 oz of beer, or 5 oz of wine.  (There is a great chart on serving sizes of alcohol at a website called "Rethinking Drinking.")  I am not talking about having a beer with your burrito, or a glass of wine with your meal.  We are talking about drinking to the point of impairment.  According to the CDC, the average number of drinks consumed by binge drinkers is 8.  For most people, that would definitely cause impairment.  It is interesting to note that people who binge drink are often not alcoholics or dependent upon alcohol.

The data reveals that one in six American adults binge drink, and that they do so about 4 times a month (weekends, perhaps?).  Rates in Maine are on the high end of the national range, where between 18% and 26% of adults binge drink.  The number of drinks Maine binge drinkers consume is also on the higher end of the range...7.8 to 9 drinks per episode.

The age groups who tend to binge drink are also interesting.  Young adults 18-34 make up the greatest number of binge drinkers, but the age group that has the greatest percentage of its population who binge drinks is seniors over 65 years of age.  Adults who make over $75K a year are the most likely to binge drink, but those who make under $25K a year binge drink more often and consume more alcohol per episode.

Here in our community we have been monitoring rates of binge drinking by our student population.  It may shock you to learn that local rates for high school seniors who drink to excess is higher than rates for adults in Maine.  In 2004, more than 38% of local seniors reported having consumed 5 or more drinks in a row in the last two weeks (Maine Youth Drug And Alcohol Use Survey data).  In 2010 that rate had fallen significantly, but is still at more than 30%.

Given that teens are wired to take risks anyway, the fact that 3 out of every 10 seniors were drinking enough to impair their judgement concerns me.  I hope that this also concerns you.

So, what to do about it? We can model responsible use and encourage our friends not to binge. We can drink in moderation if we do drink. (The US Dietary Guidelines on alcohol consumption recommend no more than 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men. Pregnant women and underage youth should not drink alcohol.)  We can send the clear message to our youth that they shouldn't drink, as their developing bodies have a harder time metabolizing alcohol AND, it is against the law.  We can also get involved in community efforts to change the social norms around heavy alcohol use.

We welcome your comments and thoughts on this!  Be part of the conversation!

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