Binge drinking a women’s health issue

 Binge drinking is a major public health concern among American women with nearly 14 million overindulging in alcohol, government researchers said.

About 12.5% of adult women in the U.S. reported binge drinking in 2011, downing four drinks or more in one sitting, Robert Brewer, MD, of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and colleagues reported online in a Vital Signs report in Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report.

The proportion is even higher among high school girls, with about 20% reporting that they consume alcohol excessively. While it is an even more prevalent problem with men and boys, it is an under recognized problem in women and girls.

In 2011, more than 13.6 million U.S. adult women binge drank an average of three times a month, Brewer and colleagues reported. During each of those binge sessions, women consumed an average of six drinks, he said. Bingeing is most common among women ages 18 to 34, and then gradually falls off with age. About 24% of women, ages 18 to 24, and 20% of those, ages 25 to 34, reported bingeing on alcohol.

White women and women with a household income of $75,000 or more were more likely to binge, they found.   Among high school students, white and Hispanic girls were more likely to binge than African-American girls (about 22% for each versus 10%) and 12th graders were about twice as likely to drink as freshmen (27% versus 13%).

Women are typically at greater risk from the harms of alcohol than men because they metabolize it differently. It puts them at higher risk of breast cancer, sexually transmitted disease, heart disease, and unintended pregnancy.  And drinking during pregnancy — particularly among women who continue to binge not knowing they’re pregnant — can lead to severe birth defects.

Among the 23,000 women who die every year in the U.S. from excessive alcohol intake, about half are related to binge drinking, whether it’s alcohol poisoning, motor vehicle crashes, or interpersonal violence.