'Extreme' Binge Drinking Is on the Rise in the US

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Millions of Americans say they engage in extreme binge drinking — or downing at least eight to 10 drinks containing alcohol on a single occasion — and the behavior appears to be on the rise in the U.S., according to a new report.

The findings are concerning because this high level of drinking is linked with health and safety risks, including an increased risk of injury or even death, according to the researchers, from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

The study "reveals that a large number of people in the United States drink at very high levels and underscores the dangers associated with such 'extreme' binge drinking," George F. Koob, director of the NIAAA, said in a statement.

The researchers analyzed information from more than 36,000 Americans ages 18 and older who completed a survey about their alcohol consumption in 2012 to 2013. The researchers asked the participants to report the maximum number of alcoholic drinks they consumed on a single day in the past year. [Here's How Much Alcohol Is OK to Drink in 19 Countries]

Binge drinking was defined as consuming four or more drinks on a single occasion (for women), or five or more drinks on a single occasion (for men), while extreme binge drinking was defined as consuming double those amounts, or more.

The researchers found that 13 percent of the survey respondents reported having engaged in extreme binge drinking in the past year, which translates to approximately 32 million people in the U.S., the researchers estimated. That's up from 8 percent who reported having engaged in extreme binge drinking in 2001 to 2002.

That 13 percent in the 2012-to-2013 survey broke down to 8 percent who reported having consumed double the amount considered to be binge drinking (at least eight drinks for women, or at least 10 drinks for men), and 5 percent who reported having consumed triple the amount (12 for women, 15 for men), or more, on a single occasion.

The study also found that the people who engaged in binge drinking were more likely to be injured or visit the emergency room as a result of their alcohol use, or to be a driver in an alcohol-related car crash, compared with the people who did not binge drink.

What's more, people who engaged in extreme binge drinking often used other drugs in addition to alcohol. This is concerning, the researchers said, because combining other drugs with alcohol can increase the risk of overdose death.

"Drinking at such high levels can suppress areas of the brain that control basic life-support functions such as breathing and heart rate, thereby increasing one's risk of death," said study co-author Aaron White, the senior scientific adviser to the NIAAA director. "The risk increases further if other sedative drugs, particularly opioids or benzodiazepines, are added to the mix."

The findings highlight the need to identify strategies to reduce extreme binge drinking and its potential harms, the researchers said.

The study is published in the June issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Original article on Live Science.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.