Study Finds Huge Variation in Rates of Binge Drinking Across U.S.

Nationwide levels of heavy drinking and binge drinking are on the rise, but there are large variations in rates of excessive alcohol use across the United States, a new study finds.

Heavy drinking—defined as more than two drinks a day for men and more than one drink a day for women—increased 17.2 percent from 2005 to 2012, the researchers found. Overall, 8.2 percent of Americans were considered heavy drinkers in 2012, while 18.3 percent were binge drinkers—defined as having at least five drinks on one occasion for men and at least four drinks for women.

Binge drinking rates rose much faster for women than for men, the study found, USA Today reports. “The percentage of people who drink is not changing much, but among drinkers, we are seeing more heavy drinking and more binge drinking,” said lead author Ali Mokdad of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. “We’re going in the wrong direction.”

In a news release, Dr. Mokdad noted, “We are seeing some very alarming trends in alcohol overconsumption, especially among women. We also can’t ignore the fact that in many U.S. counties a quarter of the people, or more, are binge drinkers.”

The highest rate of binge drinking was found in Wisconsin’s Menominee County, home of the Menominee Indian Reservation, where 36 percent of adults 21 and older binge drink. The lowest rate was in Madison County, Idaho, with a binge-drinking rate of 5.9 percent.

The highest rate of heavy drinking—22.4 percent—was found in Esmeralda County in Nevada. The lowest rate—2.4 percent—was in Hancock County, in Tennessee’s Appalachian Mountains.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found the highest rates of overall and problem drinking were in New England, along the Pacific coast and in the northern parts of the West and Midwest.