Fewer Americans are binge-drinking, but those who do are drinking more per session


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  • Americans who drink heavily are now consuming more alcoholic drinks during each binge, according to a new study.

  • Researchers found that binge-drinkers consumed 12% more alcohol per episode in 2017 than in 2011 — from an average of 479 drinks a year per person to 529. 

  • Heavy drinking, defined as 5 or more drinks for men and 4 or more for women in a single sitting, can increase the risk of stroke, heart disease, and liver damage.

  • The study found the greatest increases in alcohol use were among people with lower incomes and education levels.

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Even as Dry January is trending and sober bars are popping up everywhere, some people are drinking more alcohol than ever, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Researchers from the CDC analyzed data from 2011 to 2017 obtained from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an annual telephone survey that collects data on risk behaviors and chronic illness from more than 400,000 Americans across the nation.

They found that heavy drinkers averaged about 529 drinks per year in 2017 (the most recent year for which data was available), compared to 479 in 2011 – an increase of about 12%.

The CDC defines binge-drinking as consuming an average of 7 drinks in quick succession. That's 17.5 billion drinks a year beyond what is considered to be a safe limit for alcohol, according to the research.

Rates are rising fastest among people with low incomes and lower education levels

About 18% of US adults (roughly 59 million people) binge-drink at least once a week, according to the latest data.

Interestingly, the researchers found that the overall prevalence of binge drinking decreased slightly (by about .9%) from 2011 to 2019. So, while fewer people were drinking excessively, those who did binge drink were indulging more heavily.

And certain groups were more likely to drink more than others. People without a high school diploma drank 45% more during binge sessions in 2017 than they did in 2011. Those with a household income below $25,000 drank nearly 24% more.

Binge-drinking can exacerbate alcohol-related injuries and deaths, including from accidents and illness

Overall, Americans consumed 2.34 gallons of alcohol per person in 2017, but binge-drinkers accounted for much of that.

The study was limited in some respects. People tend to under-report the amount of alcohol they drink, compared to data on alcohol sales, so more research is needed to better understand which demographics are most effected by alcohol.

But public health officials said they don't want to underestimate the figures. Binge-drinking increases the risks of car accidents, assaults, and liver disease, not to mention the hangovers, which can create more problems than just a headache.

One possible solution could be higher alcohol taxes, or more enforcement of existing laws, according to researchers, but outright bans on drinking have, historically, not been very effective in fixing the problem.

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