Heavy drinking and binge drinking is becoming far more prevalent in the U.S. due in large part to rising rates of drinking among women, according to a new analysis published in the American Journal of Public Health.
By contrast, the percentage of people who drink any alcohol has remained relatively unchanged over time, according to the latest research by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.
“We are seeing some very alarming trends in alcohol overconsumption, especially among women,” said Dr. Ali Mokdad, a lead author of the study and professor at IHME. “We also can’t ignore the fact that in many U.S. counties a quarter of the people, or more, are binge drinkers.”
The study is the first to track trends in alcohol use at the county level. The findings, focused on people aged 21 and older, showed that heavy drinking among Americans has increased sharply, up 17.2 percent since 2005.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines heavy drinking as exceeding an average of one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men over the past month.
Nationally, 18.3 people of people were binge drinkers in 2012, which the CDC defines as consuming four drinks or more for women and five drinks or more for men on a single occasion at least once during the past month. Since 2005, binge drinking has increased by 8.9 percent.
Overall, women showed a much faster escalation in binge drinking than men, with rates rising 17.5 percent between 2005 and 2012; men, on the other hand, saw rates of binge drinking increase 4.9 percent.
These rising rates of heavy and binge drinking starkly contrast with America’s trends for drinking any alcohol, which have remained largely unchanged over time (56 percent of people in the U.S. consumed any alcohol in 2005 and 2012).
Some regional drinking patterns emerged as well, with several areas in the West, Midwest, and New England showing higher levels of alcohol consumption, particularly in comparison with a number of counties in the southern United States and Utah.
However, the most startling disparities in alcohol use were found within state lines.
“In the U.S., state-level results often mask the full range of what people are experiencing health-wise,” said IHME’s Director Dr. Christopher Murray.
“When you can map out what’s happening county by county, over time, and for men and women separately, that’s also when you can really pinpoint specific health needs and challenges, and then tailor health policies and programs accordingly.”
Binge drinking is often linked to a higher risk for serious bodily harm, such as injuries, alcohol poisoning, and acute organ damage. Heavy drinking is considered a risk factor for longer-term conditions, such as liver cirrhosis and cardiovascular disease.