Summary: Moderate drinkers who have a pattern of binge drinking are five times more likely to develop alcohol use disorders than moderate drinkers who do not binge drink.
Moderate drinkers have a significantly higher risk of developing drinking problems than those who drink the same amount overall but don’t binge drink, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, which appears in the journal American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
After analyzing a national sample of US adults, psychology professor Charles Holahan, PhD, UT Austin, and his collaborators found that moderate average drinkers with a binge drinking pattern were almost five times more likely to have multiple drinking problems and twice as likely to have other drinking problems nine years later .
Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as an average of no more than one drink per day for women and two for men. Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks on the same occasion.
“That means,” said Dr. Holahan, “that a person whose total consumption on Saturday night is seven drinks presents a greater risk profile than someone whose total consumption is one daily drink at dinner, even though their average alcohol consumption is the same.”
This research supports the growing recognition that binge drinking among adults is a public health problem and calls for increased public health efforts to address this drinking.
Research on binge drinking tends to focus on adolescents and college students, but most binge drinking occurs in adults over the age of 30, and the prevalence of binge drinking among adults is increasing.
However, research on adult alcohol use and its effects usually focuses only on a person’s average drinking level, which masks binge drinking. As a result, the effects of binge drinking on adult light and moderate alcohol drinkers have not been well studied or understood.
“In both academic and media discussions of moderate drinking, the drinking pattern is generally overlooked,” said Rudolf Moos, PhD, one of the study’s co-authors and professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine.
“As a result, many drinkers mistakenly assume that moderate, average consumption is safe, regardless of drinking behavior.”
To better understand the impact of drinking habits, the researchers analyzed survey responses from 1,229 drinkers aged 30 and older. The data, drawn from two waves of the Midlife Development Study in the United States, allowed the researchers to see how respondents’ drinking patterns affected them over nine years.
What investigators found surprised them: Most cases of binge drinking — and multiple drinking problems — occurred in people who were average, moderate drinkers.
“Much of binge drinking among adults escapes public health scrutiny,” said Dr. Holahan, “because it occurs in individuals who drink at a moderate average level. These results point to the need for alcohol interventions that target moderately average drinkers, in addition to traditional strategies that focus on the higher-risk but smaller population of habitually heavy drinkers.”
About this news from alcohol and addiction research
Author: Eileen Leahy
Contact: Eileen Leahy-Elsevier
Picture: The image is in the public domain
Original research: Open access.
“Binge Drinking and Alcohol Problems Among Moderate Average-Level Drinkers” by Kaulie Watson et al. American Journal of Preventive Medicine
Binge drinking and drinking problems in moderate, average-level drinkers
A significant amount of binge drinking among adults escapes public health scrutiny because it occurs among individuals who drink at moderate, average levels. This observational study examined the role of binge drinking pattern in predicting drinking problems among moderate drinkers in a US national sample of adults.
Participants were 1,229 current drinkers aged ≥ 30 years from 2 waves of the United States midlife trend study with a time lag of 9 years (2004-2015) (2021-2022 analysis). Negative binomial regression analyzes were used to examine the number of alcohol problems, and binary logistic regression analyzes were used to examine multiple (≥2) alcohol problems.
Regardless of average alcohol consumption, binge drinking was associated with a nearly 3-fold increase in the number of concomitant drinking problems and a prospective 40% increase in the number of drinking problems 9 years later. Most cases of binge drinking and multiple drinking problems were attributed to moderate drinkers. In moderate drinkers, binge drinking was associated with an almost 5-fold increase in concomitant multiple drinking problems and a >2-fold increase in multiple drinking problems estimated 9 years later.
These results add significantly to the growing recognition that binge drinking is a public health problem in adults. Moderate drinkers should be included in efforts to reduce adult drinking problems. These findings are applicable to primary and secondary prevention of alcohol problems and have the potential to improve population health.