HealthDay News — About one in six U.S. adults regularly engages in binge drinking, which accounts for more than 40,000 alcohol-related deaths every year, according to data published in Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report.

Dafna Kanny, PhD, of the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the CDC in Atlanta, and colleagues analyzed data from the 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which included 457,677 adults in 48 states (minus South Dakota and Tennessee) and the District of Columbia, to determine binge drinking prevalence among U.S. adults aged 18 years and older.

Binge drinking — defined as consuming four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men on a single occasion — has serious health and economic implications, accounting for more than half of the estimated 80,000 annual deaths and three-quarters of the $223.5 billion in costs associated with excessive alcohol use.

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Other problems associated with binge drinking include car crashes, violence, suicide, hypertension, acute MI, sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy, fetal alcohol syndrome and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Overall, 17.1% of those surveyed reported binge drinking in the past 30 days, averaging 4.4 episodes each month and 7.9 drinks per occasion. Binge drinking prevalence and intensity were highest among those aged 18 to 24 years, at 28.2% and 9.3 drinks. Frequency was highest among binge drinkers aged 65 years and older at 5.5 episodes per month.

Men are twice as likely to binge drink as women (23.2% vs. 11.4%), data indicate. Among racial and ethnic groups, whites and Hispanics were most likely to binge drink (18% and 17.9%, respectively), whereas non-Hispanics from other racial and ethnic groups and Hispanics had the highest intensity (8.7 and 8.4 drinks per episode, respectively).

Socioeconomic analysis revealed that binge-drinking increases with household income, reaching 20% among those earning $75,000 or more. Households that fell into the lowest income group (less than $25,000) had the highest frequency (5.0 episodes per month) and intensity (8.5 drinks per episode).

“Binge drinking causes a wide range of health, social and economic problems and this report confirms the problem is really widespread,” CDC director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, said in a press release. “We need to work together to implement proven measures to reduce binge drinking at national, state and community levels.”

In 2005, the Community Preventive Services Task Force made several recommendations to reduce the burden of binge drinking. These included:

  • Limit the density of stores that sell alcohol
  • Hold those who sell alcohol responsible for harms related to selling to minors and to intoxicated patrons
  • Maintain limits on when alcohol can be sold
  • Increase the price of alcohol
  • Avoid further privatization of alcohol sales in states with government-operated or contracted liquor stores

The self-reported nature of the data and exclusion of populations in institutional settings, such as college and the military, may limit the study findings, the researchers noted.

Kanny D, et al “Vital signs: Binge drinking prevalence, frequency, and intensity among adults — United States, 2010” MMWR 2012; 61: 1-7.