WASHINGTON — More than one in four high school students and adults ages 18 to 34 reported binge drinking in the past month, according to officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who said the new data represents a serious public health problem.
Every year, 33 million adults binge drink -- defined as four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men over a short period of time -- and the numbers are not decreasing, said Dr. Robert Brewer, alcohol program leader at the CDC and one of the authors of a new report on binge drinking released Tuesday.
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Brewer and CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden announced the data on a media teleconference and told reporters that people need to be more aware that drinking to get drunk can result in serious health consequences for themselves and others.
"Binge drinking increases many health risks, including fatal car crashes, contracting a sexually transmitted disease, dating violence, and drug overdoses," said Frieden. "Excessive alcohol use remains the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States and leads to a wide range of health and social problems."
About half of the 79,000 deaths per year caused by alcohol are connected to binge drinking, said Brewer.
A recent study of 28 teenagers found a link between binge drinking and a loss of white matter in the brain. Another study found binge drinking is especially dangerous for hypertensive men. And in a study from last year of 16,000 military personnel, the 43 percent of service members who reported binge drinking in the past month were more likely to report problems with job performance, have interactions with the criminal justice system, and drink and drive.
Binge drinking rates were slightly (one percentage point) higher in 2009 than in 1993, the report found.
One reason the binge drinking rates have stayed steady may be because the public doesn't see binge drinking as a major public health concern, Frieden and Brewer said.
"As a society, we haven't really taken it seriously as a public health problem," Brewer said.
Frieden said communities need to brainstorm ways to address binge drinking.
For the survey, CDC looked at data from the 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) on the prevalence of binge drinking among 412,000 U.S. adults aged 18 years and older who responded to the BRFSS survey by landline or cellular telephone.
In addition, the CDC researchers also analyzed data from the 2009 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which asked 16,000 high school students questions about the prevalence of current alcohol use and binge drinking.