According to an article entitled, Binge Drinking Common Among Adults, “about one in every six U.S. adults binges on alcohol.”
According to the article, “binge drinking — defined as at least four drinks in one sitting for women and five drinks for men — carries substantial risks and high costs. It accounts for more than half of the estimated 80,000 annual deaths and three-quarters of the $223.5 billion in economic costs tied to excessive alcohol use.”
The article goes on to point out, “and the problem is even larger than these self-reported data indicate. Previous studies have shown that, based on alcohol sales, asking people to self-report drinking behavior captures less than one-third of presumed consumption.”
Not surprisingly, the article reports, “the rate of binge drinking was highest among 18-to-24-year-olds (28.2%), as was the intensity (9.3 drinks per occasion). Both figures decreased with age. The frequency of binge drinking, however, was highest among respondents 65 and older (5.5 episodes per month).”
My patients prefer to call binge drinking by the more PC term, “social drinking.” As part of assessing each patients risk for disease and injury, I ask questions about alcohol, tobacco, and other substance abuse during most visits.
Mr. X is a 24 year old college grad, employed full-time as an accountant. He lives with his roommate in Chicago and is actively dating several young women.
Me: Mr. X, do you drink alcohol?
Mr. X: Socially, on occasion.
Me: On which occasions?
Mr. X: On most weekends and occasionally during the work week.
Me: How much do you drink on the occasions you drink?
Mr. X: You know, a few on a weekday and a few more on weekends.
Me: Can you be a little more precise? How many is a few?
Mr. X, again avoiding the truth: Maybe 4-5 a night during the week and more on the weekend.
This young man who only drinks socially, having a “few” drinks on an “occasion,” is really a binge drinker, something he learned in college. The problem is twofold. Number one, he has no idea he is a binge drinker and therefore is unaware of the risks of his drinking.
The second and larger problem is that his friends are also binge drinkers and also fail to recognize the risk of binging. These are responsible young men and women. They do not drink and drive, arriving and leaving by taxi. If they drive, they have a designated driver who mostly refrains from drinking.
So, what’s the harm? According to the article, binge drinking “accounts for more than half of the estimated 80,000 annual deaths and three-quarters of the $223.5 billion in economic costs tied to excessive alcohol use.” Just think about that. Up to 40,000 deaths are related to binging!
In my 30 years of practice, I have been unfortunate enough to watch young souls destroy themselves with a “few” drinks on an “occasion.” I have heard all the excuses.
“Doc, haven’t young people always partied with alcohol? Didn’t you?” “I make a good living and work hard. I deserve to be able to party on the weekend.” “We are very responsible drinkers.”
I have also seen many “wild and crazy” youths grow into responsible sober adults and raise “wild and crazy” binge drinkers of their own. How do you know which binge drinkers will go on to become alcoholics, or worse, die. Therein lays the conundrum.
If you or your children or friends fit the definition of a binge drinker, stop. Since there is no way of knowing if you are destined to be one of the 40,000 fatalities, avoiding binging seems to be your only sensible choice. Remember, the life you save may be your own.
Stewart Segal is a family physician who blogs at Livewellthy.org.
Submit a guest post and be heard on social media’s leading physician voice.