1 in 8 US Women Binge Drinks

Reported by Dr. Katherine Day Rose:

One in eight American women engages in binge drinking, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And among high school girls, the rate increases to one in five.

Excessive alcohol is implicated in about 23,000 deaths among women and girls in the United States each year, according to the CDC. Of these deaths, the agency estimates that binge drinking is responsible for about 12,000 deaths annually.

In a Tuesday teleconference, CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden called binge drinking "the most common and dangerous form of drinking," citing it as a risk factor for unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, heart disease, reduced cognitive function, breast cancer and other health problems in women. Also present at the teleconference was Dr. Richard Brewer, head of the CDC's alcohol program, who said binge drinking "is not a new problem for women and girls, but it is an underrecognized problem for women and girls."

How Much Is Too Much?

Technically speaking, binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks in a sitting. In its report, the CDC found that the overall prevalence of binge drinking in women over the age of 18 was 12.5 percent, with an average of 3.2 episodes per month and 5.7 drinks per episode. They also found that it's most common among women aged 18 to 24, with 24 percent of women stating that they had an episode of binge drinking in the past 30 days. Binge drinking is more common in white women and those with household incomes over $75,000.

Among high school girls, 38 percent reported current alcohol use, with just over half of current users admitting to binge drinking. Binge drinking behavior increased as girls got older, with 27 percent of 12 th grade girls reporting binge drinking, compared to 13 percent of 9 th grade girls.

Model Behavior?

Drinking among high school girls is correlated with alcohol consumption by adult women at the state level, suggesting that adult behavior may influence teens who aspire to be like young adults. Additionally, teens often obtain alcohol from adults, and the availability and price of alcohol are known to affect consumption.

Overall, binge drinking continues to be more prevalent among men, with about twice as many men as women engaging in binge drinking. However, this difference is less pronounced in teenagers, with 24 percent of boys and 20 percent of girls reporting binge drinking.

Regardless of age, Frieden and Brewer warned that women are at high risk for the negative consequences of binge drinking. After drinking, women tend to have higher blood alcohol levels due to differences in the way women metabolize alcohol. Additionally, women who binge drink are more likely to have unintended and unknown pregnancies and may inadvertently expose a fetus to the dangers of alcohol.

Facing the Problem

Frieden and Brewer said families, communities and health care providers all have the power to curb binge drinking - both in women and in society as a whole.

"Parents play a key role in preventing youth from starting or continuing to drink," Frieden said, adding that community programs play a role and that it is imperative for health care providers to ask about and counsel on drinking issues. For women and girls, these interventions may have a big impact on both current and future health.

As a final rule of thumb, Frieden offered the following advice to women who drink alcohol: "Never four or more."