Study: Binge drinking a widespread problem

A file photo of drinks on a bar.

A file photo of drinks on a bar. (May 25, 2012) (Credit: Barbara Alper)

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Binge drinking is a bigger problem than previously thought, affecting 1 in 6 people, and a diverse range of drinkers from high school students to those on Social Security, researchers have found.

More than 38 million adults binge on alcohol at least four times a month. Some college-age drinkers report as many as nine drinks during an episode.

The statistics were released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on telephone surveys of more than 450,000 adults.

Excessive drinking, the agency said, causes more than 80,000 deaths nationwide annually, making it the third-leading preventable cause of death. The income group most likely to binge earns more than $75,000 a year.

"What we're talking about is a risk behavior that's quite widespread in the population," said Robert Brewer, who heads the alcohol program in the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the CDC.

Binge drinking is more common among men than women -- 23 percent of men binge, compared with 11 percent of women. Women are considered to be binge drinkers when they consume at least four drinks in a single sitting; men at least five, Brewer said.

But the research also revealed that even though the age group with the most binge drinkers is between 18 and 34, the group with the most frequent episodes of binge drinking -- consuming more times per month -- is 65 and older.

"It is a problem with college students, high school students, active military, even medical students, believe it or not," Brewer said.

He linked excessive drinking to high blood pressure, cancer, liver failure and vehicle accidents.

Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence in Mineola, isn't surprised. "We have seen an increase in alcohol use as the economy has gotten worse," Reynolds said. "And that's for folks of all income brackets."

The marketing of alcohol has exacerbated the problem, Reynolds added, with some establishments offering two-for-one drinks. Popular supersized glasses, he said, hold the equivalent of 2.5 drinks.

"Some people are bingeing," he said, "and don't even realize it."

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