About 17 percent of U.S. adults, or 38 million people, say they binge drink, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks for women, and five or more drinks for men, on one occasion.
Binge drinkers reported an average of four episodes a month, each consisting of eight drinks at most, according to the report, which is based on data gathered during a 2010 survey.
The biggest group of binge drinkers are young adults, with about 28 percent of people between ages 18 and 24 reporting binge drinking. Men are twice as likely as women to say they binge drink.
A 2009 survey showed that about 15 percent of U.S. adults binge drink. The apparent uptick in prevalence is likely due to the polling of more people with cellphones in the current report, the researchers said.
Binge drinkers are at risk for many health problems, including liver disease, certain cancers, heart disease, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies exposed to alcohol. They also are at increased risk of being in car accidents, and engaging in violent behavior.
"Binge drinking causes a wide range of health, social and economic problems, and this report confirms the problem is really widespread," said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the CDC. "We need to work together to implement proven measures to reduce binge drinking at national, state and community levels."
Which state binges the most?
Drinking too much, and binge drinking, causes more than 80,000 deaths in the United States each year, making it the third leading preventable cause of death, according to the report. It was responsible for more than $223.5 billion in economic costs in 2006.
In the new report, the CDC analyzed data from a 2010 telephone survey on alcohol consumption. The survey involved about 458,000 U.S. adults who reported their drinking habits for the last 30 days.
Although the percentage of people reporting binge drinking was highest among young people, it was binge drinkers ages 65 and older who over-consumed the most often: this group reported an average of five to six episodes a month.
The state with the highest percentage of people reporting binge drinking was Wisconsin, with 25.6 percent. Those in Wisconsin also consumed the most alcohol during a given binge, at 9 drinks on an occasion. The frequency of binge drinking was lowest in New Jersey (3.6 times per month) and highest in Kentucky (about 6 times per month).
Utah and West Virginia had the lowest percentages of people reporting binge drinking, each with 10.9 percent.
The researchers noted the actual amount of binge drinking may be higher because people tend to admit to drinking less than they actually do.
Proposed strategies to tackle binge drinking include limiting the number of alcohol retailers in a given area, holding alcohol retailers responsible for harm related to the sale of alcohol to minors and increasing the price of booze.
Attention to adult binge drinking is important because adult behavior influences the behavior of children and adolescents, according to the CDC.
"Binge drinking by adults has a huge public health impact, and influences the drinking behavior of underage youth by the example it sets," said Pamela S. Hyde, administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. "We need to reduce binge drinking by adults to prevent the immediate and long-term effects it has on the health of adults and youth," Hyde said.
The report is published today (Jan. 10) in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).