Question: Is there a difference between heavy drinking and binge drinking? And do these have any effect on my health?
Answer: Yes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines heavy drinking as the consumption of 15 drinks or more per week for men and 8 or more drinks per week for women. On the other hand, they define binge drinking as consuming five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women, in about two hours. A binge drinker is someone who experiences at least one binge-drinking episode during a 30-day period.
Per the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a standard alcoholic drink is equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, which is typically about 5% alcohol; 5 ounces of wine, which is typically 12% alcohol; or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor, which is typically 40% alcohol, or 80 proof.
According to a new study released this week by the CDC, U.S. adults who binge drink have significantly increased their alcohol intake in recent years. The study found that U.S. adults consumed more than 529 binge drinks per binge drinker in 2017 compared to 472 in 2011. Binge drinkers in Ohio average some 764 alcoholic drinks per person annually, according to the study.
The CDC says this is a concern because excessive alcohol consumption or binge drinking can lead to long-term health problems such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and liver failure. In fact, the CDC states that binge drinking is responsible for more than half of the 88,000 alcohol-attributable deaths and three-quarters of the $249 billion in economic costs associated with excessive drinking in the United States annually.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans says that women of legal drinking age should have no more than one drink per day, while men of legal drinking age should consume no more than two drinks per day.
Why are there different recommendations for men and women?
Well, the body depends on substances known as enzymes to process alcohol, said Irene Hatsu, state specialist in food security for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
“And women generally produce less enzymes compared to men, thereby causing more unprocessed alcohol to go straight into their blood, thus quickly building up and producing effects,” she said.
In addition, compared to men, women are generally smaller, have more body fat, and have less total body water. The alcohol they consume, therefore, doesn’t get diluted and becomes more concentrated in the blood.
So, what can be done at the community level to reduce binge drinking?
The CDC recommends that alcohol screening and intervention by health care providers become a routine part of clinical care. It also recommends the widespread use of community prevention strategies such as limiting the number of places that serve or sell alcohol in a geographic area, as well as limiting the days and hours of alcohol sales.