Recently, a group of researchers from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington conducted the first study ever to track trends in alcohol use at county level. According to the report, heavy drinking in the US has risen by 17.2% since 2005, and binge drinking has increased by 8.9% over the same period.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “heavy drinking” is defined as exceeding an average of one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men. They define “binge drinking” as consuming four drinks or more for women in a single occasion, or five drinks or more for men. While binge drinking is associated with higher risk for serious bodily harm such as injuries, alcohol poisoning and acute organ damage, heavy drinking is associated with more long-term conditions such as liver cirrhosis and cardiovascular disease.
In 2012, 8.2% of Americans were defined as “heavy drinkers” and 18.3% of them were considered “binge drinkers”. The lowest levels of binge drinking (just 5.9% of residents) were in Madison County, ID, while the highest (36%) were in Menominee, WI. The lowest levels of heavy drinking were in Hancock County, TN (2.4%), while the highest were in Esmeralda County, NV (22.4%). Although rates of heavy drinking and binge drinking have risen between 2005 and 2012, researchers found that the national rates of alcohol consumption are unchanged. However, one of the most interesting findings of the study is how nationwide levels of binge drinking have been affected by changes in drinking trends among women.
On a national level, women exhibited a much faster escalation in binge drinking than men, with binge drinking among women rising by 17.5% between 2005 and 2012, compared to 4.9% among men. Although some regional drinking patterns were observed at a national level, the West, Midwest and New England all exhibited higher levels of alcohol consumption in comparison with other regions. The researchers said that the most striking disparities were found within states. For example, researchers explain that rates of overall binge drinking in Texas ranged from 10.8% in Collingsworth County, to 35.5% in Loving County, so while one county was well below that national binge drinking average of 18.3%, another county in the same state had levels of binge drinking nearly twice that average (although the two counties are nearly 360 miles away from each other).