Binge drinking and heavy drinking in the United States increased significantly in recent years, particularly among women, according to a new study presented today by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
While the overall rate of drinking remained constant between 2005 and 2012, heavy drinking increased 17.2 percent and binge drinking increased 8.9 percent during that time.
Heavy drinking was defined as averaging more than one drink per day during the past month (for women) or two drinks (for men). Binge drinking was defined as having four or more drinks at one occasion in the past month (for women) and five or more (for men).
The study showed wide variation in prevalence among counties and regions — heavy drinking ranged from 2.4 percent in Hancock County, Tennessee to 22.4 percent in Esmeralda County, Nevada. Binge drinking ranged from 5.9 percent in Madison County, Idaho to 36 percent in Menominee County, Wisconsin.
Ali Mokdad, one of the study’s authors, gave a few possible explanations for this striking geographic variation, including socioeconomic class, the number of outlets that sell alcohol (such as bars) and the location of those outlets, and the social norms of the people who reside within each county.
Mokdad said he was particularly concerned by the increase in heavy and binge drinking among women, calling it one of the study’s “most interesting and scariest” results. While women still drink less than men, he said, the gap between the sexes is narrowing.
He noted that the increase in heavy drinking may tie in with a declining life expectancy rate, as such behavior can be associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver and digestive problems and cancer, among other health problems.
“We don’t see the outcry against alcohol that we see against other things in this country,” he said
He predicted that the trend will continue over the next decade.
“I am hoping my prediction is wrong,” he added. “With your help, we can change the future.”