38 Million Adults Engaged in Binge Drinking in 2010, U.S. Says

More than 38 million U.S. adults, or 17.1 percent of the population, indulged in binge drinking four times a month or more in 2010, led by members of households with incomes of $75,000 or more, federal health officials said.

Wisconsin had both the highest percentage of binge drinkers, with 25.6 percent of the population reporting they engaged, and the most-intense sessions, with an average of nine drinks, according to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The nation’s capital reported 21.9 percent of its population was binge-drinkers, tying it with North Dakota for third highest in a survey covering the District of Columbia and 48 of the 50 states.

Binge drinking, defined as four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men in a period of about 2 hours, is the third-most-common cause of preventable death in the U.S., with 80,000 annual fatalities, according to the CDC. Alcohol intoxication increases the risk of traffic accidents, falls, drownings and burns, as well as domestic violence and risky sexual behavior.

“We’re talking about a risk behavior that’s quite widespread in the population,” said Robert Brewer, an epidemiologist at the CDC, in a conference call with reporters. “And where people have the impression it’s not such a bad thing to do.”

Those who binged most often were at least 65 years old, with 5.5 events a month, the Atlanta-based agency reported. Twenty-eight percent of people ages 18 to 24 binged, consuming about 9.3 drinks an episode.

Government Recommendations

The CDC recommends women have no more than one drink a day and men no more than two. One drink is the equivalent of 12 ounces of beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor, according to the CDC’s website. Most people who binge drink aren’t alcoholics, the agency said.

About 20 percent of those whose households made more than $75,000 were binge drinkers, the highest overall prevalence. People from households making less than $25,000 who did binge imbibed more often, with about five episodes a month and 8.5 drinks on each occasion.

Today’s data came from self-reported incidents within the last 30 days for 458,000 U.S. adults. It was part of the Atlanta-based agency’s 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

People binged most often in Kentucky, reporting engaging in the behavior an average of 5.9 times a month.

Data weren’t available from South Dakota and Tennessee.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Lopatto in New York at elopatto@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net.

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