Americans Are Binge Drinking More, Especially Women

04/27/2015 03:41 pm ET | Updated Apr 27, 2015
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The binge drinking rates for women rose almost 36 percent between 2002 and 2012, according to a study published this month in the American Journal of Public Health. Men's binge drinking rates rose 23 percent over the same time period, and men are still more likely to binge drink overall.

It seems like women are trying to catch up to the men in binge drinking,” Ali Mokdad, a lead author of the study, told Kaiser Health News. “It’s really, really scary.”

The study did not examine increases by age groups of women, nor did researchers determine what might be behind the jump. To date, there isn't a lot of research into why women are increasingly drinking too much. Journalist Gabrielle Glaser, author of the 2013 book Her Best-Kept Secret: Why Women Drink And How They Can Regain Control, suggests one reason is the "historic indifference of the mostly male research community to focusing on gender differences in the science of disease."

But Tom Greenfield, scientific director of the Alcohol Research Group at the Public Health Institute in Oakland, California, told Kaiser he attributes the rise of binge drinking among women to changes in social norms -- it's now more acceptable for women to drink in the manner it's long been acceptable for men to do, he pointed out.

Binge drinking was defined by the researchers as consuming more than five drinks for men, or more than four drinks for women, in one sitting in the last month. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers excessive drinking to be 15 or more drinks per week for a man and 8 or more drinks per week for a woman.

Such excessive alcohol consumption is a costly public health problem. Alcohol causes 88,000 deaths and costs the United States some $224 billion each year. The CDC estimates that about 38 million Americans drink too much, and the American Journal of Public Health study reported a 17.2 percent increase in heavy drinking among Americans since 2005.

Meanwhile, the rate of drinkers in the United States has remained steady since 2002, at about 56 percent overall.

Regionally, New England, the Midwest and the West had higher rates of alcohol consumption than other areas of the country (check out this handy map of alcohol consumption by county). Wealthy and educated individuals are also more likely to drink. As as The Huffington Post reported in 2012, high-income households making more than $75,000 per year are more likely to binge drink than other socioeconomic groups.

This post has been updated with additional information from the researchers and other sources.

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