America has a binge drinking problem, according to a new government report.
More than 38 million U.S. adults binge drink an average of four times each month, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency notes that the majority of people who binge drink are not alcoholics, but the trend is alarming because of the number of serious problems that can occur when people have too much alcohol, such as car accidents, violence and sexually transmitted diseases.
The CDC reports that too much drinking results in 80,000 deaths each year in the U.S., and cost the country more than $223.5 billion in 2006.
"The public is very much aware of the health risks of obesity, which are less than binge drinking," said Dr. Fulton Crews, director of the Center for Alcohol Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "But most people don't realize that binge drinking is unhealthy."
The agency defines binge drinking as women having four or more drinks in a sitting and men drinking five or more, but the definition of binge drinking can vary. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the same amount of alcohol must be consumed in two hours or less to qualify as binge drinking, an amount that would put a person's blood alcohol level above the legal driving limit, Crews said.
According to the CDC's report, binge drinking is more common among young adults ages 18 to 34 and among wealthier Americans, those with an annual household income of $75,000 or more. But binge drinkers age 65 and older reported drinking more in one sitting, and people with an annual income of less than $25,000 per household drank the largest number of drinks per sitting - about eight or nine at a time.
Although the report discusses binge drinking in adults only, Crews noted that binge drinking is a major problem among children under 18.
Dr. Marc Galanter, director of the division of alcoholism and drug abuse at the New York University School of Medicine, said such a high rate of regular binge drinking, particularly among young people, could create future problems with alcohol dependence. He also said the report has interesting implications for the debate about the legalization of marijuana in the U.S.
"This gives you some idea of how substances can come to be overused," Galanter said. "It has implications for the wisdom of affording more easy access to marijuana, which could come to be abused in its own way."
The data in the CDC's report came from a 2010 report of an ongoing telephone health survey and analyzed responses of nearly 500,000 Americans to questions about their alcohol habits.