“Everything in moderation,” the old saying goes. It particularly applies to alcohol consumption.
In recent years health officials have worried about the increasing tendency of some people to “binge” drink, consuming multiple alcoholic beverages in a short period of time. This pattern often develops during the college years.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men in about 2 hours.
Many of the dangers of binge drinking are fairly obvious. Accidents are much more likely when you are intoxicated. Over time, binge drinking can bring on serious health effects.
One often-overlooked danger, health officials say, is binge drinkers might die of alcohol poisoning. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that more than 2,200 people in the U.S. die each year from alcohol poisoning – consuming too much alcohol in too short a period of time.
When this happens it often results in very high levels of alcohol in the body, which can shut down critical areas of the brain that control breathing, heart rate, and body temperature - resulting in death.
A lot of people are at risk, perhaps more than you might think. The CDC says more than 38 million U.S. adults report binge drinking an average of 4 times per month, consuming an average of 8 drinks per binge.
CDC scientists analyzed deaths from alcohol poisoning among people aged 15 and older, using multiple cause-of-death data from the National Vital Statistics System for 2010-2012. Alcohol showed up as a contributing factor in about 30% of the deaths.
While that's more than the researchers were expecting to find, they conclude that the actual number is probably higher.
"Alcohol poisoning deaths are a heartbreaking reminder of the dangers of excessive alcohol use, which is a leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S.," said CDC Principal Deputy Director Ileana Arias. "We need to implement effective programs and policies to prevent binge drinking and the many health and social harms that are related to it, including deaths from alcohol poisoning."
Make it cost more
Researchers at Boston University who have studied binge drinking from a policy angle say higher taxes on alcoholic beverages may be the answer.
The study found that a 1% increase in alcohol beverage prices from taxes resulted in a 1.4% decrease in the proportion of adults who binge drink. Most previous studies have examined the effect of taxes on average consumption, while the effect of taxes on high-level drinking has been controversial.
"This is really significant for public health," said lead author Ziming Xuan.
Xuan says binge drinking causes more than half of nearly 90,000 alcohol-attributable deaths in the U.S. each year, and accounts for three-quarters of the $224 billion in annual economic costs.
The study shows that as combined alcohol taxes rise, binge drinking rates fall, with taxes accounting for some 20% of the difference in binge drinking prevalence rates across the states.
The state with the highest beer combined taxes - Tennessee--had the lowest binge drinking rate in 2010, the study found. Conversely, states with low alcohol taxes, such as Montana, Wisconsin and Delaware, had relatively high binge drinking rates.
“Everything in moderation,” the old saying goes. It particularly applies to alcohol consumption....