Binge Drinking and a Surprising Percentage

Binge Drinking

People who drink alcohol in this country currently over-estimate the amount needed to label them as binge drinkers. Most people who drink think the amount is four or five times more than the actual amount defined by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). For women that amount is eight or more drinks a week, and for men the amount is 14. The lower amount for women takes into account their body size and ability to absorb alcohol into the blood stream more quickly than men. Binge drinking takes a surprising 70 percent of men who drink to excess.

Standard drinks are broken down according to the type and size of each beverage of choice. For example, a drink can be any of the following according to the CDC; 1.5 ounces of 80-proof (alcohol content of 40 percent ) distilled spirits, also known as whiskey, gin, vodka or rum, 5 ounces of wine (12 percent alcohol content), 8 ounces of malt liquor (7 percent alcohol content), or 12 ounces of beer (alcohol content of 5 percent ). A comment from a bartender stated the amount seemed awfully low. Someone who gets drunk all of the time is more likely a binge drinker, according to this server of beverages.

For the past 20 years the definition for “heavy drinker” has evolved and is currently based on evidence from a scientific viewpoint, due to the harmful consequences from drinking too much alcohol. This is according to both the NIAAA and the CDC. Coming into play however is another definition from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Their interpretation of a heavy drinker is “five or more drinks on the same occasion, on each of five or more days in the past 30 days.”

How does one then define “heavy,” “light” or “moderate?” Dr. Arthur Klatsy stated he prefers to not use those terms as they are not quantitative or specific. Dr. Klatsy has studied the impact of alcohol on humans for decades. Everyone, he also stated wants to know which category they fit into, as terms indicate they do not supply a definitive amount accurately. Binge drinking is better described with percentage rather than definitions that are surprisingly difficult to quantify.

George Koob, director of NIAAA, helped form the definitions used by his group and the CDC. The definitions are based on epidemiological studies illustrating the negative long-term effects of heavy drinking. A survey conducted in 2011 discovered 6.5 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 12 had a heavy drinking problem. Klatsky and Koob both stated those statistics may be underestimating the actual numbers.

Other problems may develop such as esophageal, throat, larynx and liver cancers. Becoming an alcoholic, a victim of violence, pancreatitis, psychological disorders and high blood pressure may also be results of heavy drinking. A current trend in binge drinkers is the amount of young people, mostly college age, who are involved. The reason for this alarming situation is most of those drinking believe being intoxicated takes more alcohol to define being drunk.Binge Drinking

One of the biggest problems with this situation concerns the development of the frontal cortex of the brain. It does not mature in most adults until around the age of 25, the frontal cortex assists in decision-making and controls of impulse behavior. Binge drinking can cause the delay of these functions. It does not matter if you save your drinking for the weekend, either way results in damage to your health.

The CDC conducted a study between 2006 and 2010 concerning excessive alcohol use and binge drinking. These two combined factors are responsible for approximately 10 percent of the deaths attributed to working adults. It works out to just under 88,000 people every year who lose their lives to alcohol, that is one in 10 people in this country who are working age adults, more than half of whom were tied to binge drinking. The percentage of binge drinkers is a surprisingly higher number than expected.

By Andy Towle

The Washington Post

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