If you reserve drinking for the weekends or special occasions, you may not be concerned about your alcohol consumption. However, binge drinking doesn't necessarily mean drinking frequently. In fact, binge drinking is more about the amount of alcohol you consume on the occasions when you do drink. And even when binge drinking is occasional, it can be detrimental to your health and possibly lead to alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the future.
Awareness of what constitutes binge drinking and other excessive drinking behaviors can be eye-opening. If you are concerned that your alcohol consumption may be harming your health, consider medication-assisted treatment for alcohol use. Confidant Health’s online alcohol rehab can help you learn how to eliminate or moderate your alcohol intake to protect your health and well-being and lower your risk for alcohol use disorder. Download our app today to learn more.
What Is Binge Drinking?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes binge drinking as an excessive drinking behavior that involves consuming five or more drinks on an occasion for men or four or more for women. An occasion is specified as a two-hour period. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) goes further in depth, adding that binge drinking brings the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 or higher. In other words, binge drinking consists of drinking to the point that you are too impaired to operate a vehicle legally.
The NIAAA describes heavy drinking as more than 14 drinks per week for men and more than seven for women. The NIAAA also considers more than four drinks per day for men and more than three for women to qualify as heavy drinking.
According to a 2018 article in Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, high-intensity drinking is defined as consuming two or three times as much alcohol as a binge drinking episode. Using the above definition of binge drinking, that would equate to 10 or more drinks on an occasion for men and eight or more for women.
The safest relationship with alcohol is abstinence or moderate drinking. As per the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate drinking is considered two or fewer drinks per day for men and one or fewer for women.
How Common Is Binge Drinking in the US?
Of the three excessive drinking behaviors, binge drinking is by far the most common, dangerous, and costly. The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)for October 15, 2021, using data from a 2018 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey, revealed just how common binge drinking is in the United States:
- One in six adults reported binge drinking within the past 30 days.
- 25% of people who binge drank did so at least once a week.
- The mean or average frequency was 4.6 binge drinking occasions.
- 25% of people who binge drank had at least eight drinks per occasion.
- The mean intensity was 5.5 drinks per occasion.
- Binge drinking was most prevalent among people aged 25 to 34.
- Men were more likely to binge drink than women.
- Non-Hispanic white adults had the highest prevalence of binge drinking.
- People in the Midwest and Northeast were more likely to binge drink than those in other areas of the United States.
- Increased income was correlated with a higher prevalence of binge drinking.
- People who were never married or were divorced, separated, or widowed had a higher incidence of binge drinking than those who were currently married.
- Veterans had a higher prevalence of binge drinking than civilians.
- Adults with a college degree or more likely to binge drink than those with less than a high school diploma.
The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which included Americans aged 12 and up, found the incidence of binge drinking within the past month to be even higher, at 24%. The breakdown among age groups polled looks like this:
Preteens and Teens
Approximately 4.9% of young people aged 12-17 reported binge drinking in the past month.
The rate of binge drinking among young adults aged 18 to 22 varied depending on whether one was a full-time college student. Those who attended college full-time had a higher incidence of binge drinking, at 33%, while their cohorts who were not full-time students binge drank at a rate of 27.7%
Older adults were the only age group where an increase in binge drinking over the past decade was noted. Of older adults aged 65 and up, 10% reported binge drinking within the past month.