It's a Leading Preventable Cause of Death--and Teens are Doing it

More than a quarter of high school students don't know when to say when, according to a new report from the CDC.

More than one in four high school students and adults ages 18 to 34 engaged in binge drinking during the past month, according to the findings from a CDC report. Contrary to what some might believe, levels of binge drinking— defined as having four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men over a short period of time—have not declined during the past 15 years.

According to the CDC, each year, more than 33 million adults have reported binge drinking. Men are more than twice as likely to over-imbibe (21% compared to 10%). The report also found that binge drinking is more common among non-Hispanic whites (16%) than non-Hispanic blacks (10%).

"Binge drinking, increases many health risks, including fatal car crashes, contracting a sexually transmitted disease, dating violence, and drug overdoses," said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH. "Excessive alcohol use remains the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States and leads to a wide range of health and social problems."

In this report, CDC scientists analyzed data on self reports of binge drinking within the past 30 days for about 412,000 US adults aged 18 years and older from the 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and for approximately 16,000 US high school students from the 2009 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

"Alarmingly, almost one in three adults and two in three high school students who drink alcohol also binge drink, which usually leads to intoxication," said Robert Brewer, MD, MPH, one of the authors of the report. "Although most binge drinkers are not alcohol-dependent or alcoholics, they often engage in this high risk behavior without realizing the health and social problems of their drinking. States and communities need to consider further strategies to create an environment that discourages binge drinking."

Drinking too much, including binge drinking, causes more than 79,000 deaths in the US each year. Binge drinkers also put themselves and others at risk of car accidents, violence, the risk of HIV transmission and sexually transmitted diseases, and unplanned pregnancy. Over time, excessive drinking can lead to liver disease, certain cancers, heart disease, stroke, and other chronic diseases. Binge drinking can also cause harm to a developing fetus, such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Binge drinking varies widely from state to state, with estimates of binge drinking for adults ranging from 6.8% in Tennessee to 23.9% in Wisconsin. It is most common in the Midwest, North Central Plains, lower New England, Delaware, Alaska, Nevada, and the District of Columbia.

For more information:

  • CDC: 1 in 4 High School Students and Young Adults Report Binge Drinking
  • AAP: The Less Kids See of Joe Camel, the Better
  • Teen Drinking May Cause Irreversible Brain Damage

Do you screen pediatric patients for alcohol use in your practice? If so, what have you found? Is enough being done about this major health problem?