If you think binge drinking is limited to college kids and skid row inhabitants—think again. Recent surveys and studies from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) show that excessive drinking knows few age, gender, ethnic, or geographic boundaries.
What is Binge Drinking?
The CDC defines binge drinking as a relatively conservative 5 or more drinks in 2 to 3 hours for men and 4 drinks in the same period for women.
But the people doing the drinking reveal a more alarming reality. The majority of the nearly 40 million Americans who admit to binge drinking say they consume 8 drinks in 2 to 3 hours and do so on an average of 4 times a month!
Remember, alcohol is a toxin. The liver has a finite capacity for filtering it out of your bloodstream. When intake exceeds that capacity, the alcohol just backs up into your blood and starts impacting you mentally and physically. Do this for prolonged periods of time, and you run the risk of alcohol poisoning. This can damage your liver and your brain. It also affects other parts of your body, leading to skin damage, poor sleeping, weight gain (three drinks is 600 empty calories!) and more.
Who’s Doing All this Drinking?
We already laid out the figure of 40 million above. Inside that figure, just about everybody and your Aunt Sue shows up. But different groups face different kinds of dangers from the practice.
Adolescents and young adults may not out-drink older adults, but the impact on their lives can be disastrous. College-age bingers are almost 20 times more likely to become alcoholics than non-bingers. 40% of alcoholics say they drank heavily as kids. Young binge drinkers have higher rates of road accidents and deaths and a suicide rate 4 times higher than non-drinkers. Binge drinking in adolescence can impair brain development and damage the central nervous system, leading to lifelong problems.
Women binge drinkers face special problems. One in five women binge drink and although that drops for pregnant women, still 1 in 25 mothers-to-be do so. This can lead to severe damage and even death of the fetus. A female binge drinker has a 3 times higher risk of being the victim of sexual assault. Women also have a higher rate of infertility and sexually transmitted diseases.
Men have their own badges of distinction in the binge drinking arena. Six people die of alcohol poisoning every day in the United States. 76 percent of those deaths are white men between the ages of 35 and 64.
American Indians and Alaskan Natives have the highest number of deaths per million from alcohol poisoning. In fact, Alaska has the highest rate of such deaths in the nation.
But the other states don’t get off unscathed. The CDC put together statistics on adults who had binge-drunk in the past month for each of the states. The highest was the District of Columbia, at 30.1%. But even the lowest, Utah, reported 15.65%!
What’s the Cost?
The economic impact of excessive alcohol consumption that can be measured is startling. The CDC estimates excessive drinking costs the nation $223.5 billion dollars a year. That’s almost $2 for every drink. It’s about $750 for every American.
And that’s just the estimation of lost productivity, health costs, and court and law enforcement costs. It doesn’t include the loss of income from unachieved promotions or careers cut short. Or divorce costs from marriages broken up by drinking. Or children who have a much higher risk of alcohol problems when raised by heavy drinkers.
In moderation, alcohol is a social lubricant, a part of our celebrations, even a contributor to good health. But the toll of binge drinking on individuals, families, and the nation is—and should be—a sobering reality.