CDC Study Shows 1 In 5 Young Women Binge Drink
January 9, 2013

CDC Study Shows 1 In 5 Young Women Binge Drink

Alan McStravick for — Your Universe Online

The carefree days of high school were a time when we, as humans, existed in our most narcissistic state, incapable of and unwilling to acknowledge our own mortality. Risk behaviors tend to be at their highest levels in the late adolescent stage of our development. It´s hard to convince anyone in high school that the horizon isn´t endless and that they won´t live forever. Unfortunately, for too many high school aged young women, their lives are changed irrevocably by the bottom of a bottle, if not extinguished outright.

A new study, published this week by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, tackles the advancing and preventable epidemic of binge drinking by high school aged girls and young women. In their report, the CDC claims excessive alcohol use accounted for an estimated average of 23,000 deaths of girls and young women in the United States for each year between 2001 and 2005. The act of binge drinking, or consuming 5 or more drinks in a row within a 30 day period, accounted for more than half of those deaths.

"Although binge drinking is more of a problem among men and boys, binge drinking is an important and under-recognized women's health issue," said Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director.

Taking the 23,000 deaths into account and extrapolating the age of death for each young woman, the researchers arrived at a figure of 633,000 years of potential life lost (YPLL). YPLL is a concept that involves an estimation of the average time a person would have lived had he or she not died prematurely. Researchers will include these figures in their studies to demonstrate both the social and economic losses incurred due to premature death. It is important to note that confusion often arises from the use of this measurement owing to a misunderstanding of the value system that is inherent in the calculation. Additionally, there are often differing views as to which values ought to be applied to each age at death.

The study, while exposing the tragic loss of life associated with excessive alcohol use and binge drinking, also includes information on how binge drinking poses a major risk factor for both health and social outcomes for women and girls. Among these added ills are unintended and alcohol-exposed pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, unintentional injuries by accident or violence, liver disease, breast and other cancers, reduced cognitive function and alcohol dependence. For those who become pregnant, their chances of miscarriage and low birth weight for their child are significantly increased.

The CDC, to arrive at their figures for their study, analyzed data from the 2011 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System as well as the 2011 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Data that showed excessive alcohol use, defined as one or more drinks in a 30 day period, and binge drinking was culled for US high school aged girls in grades 9 through 12. One draw back to these data sets is that all of the responses are self-reported. Figures may actually be higher than the CDC has reported in their study.

What the researchers were able to realize was that 37.9 percent of high school aged girls were categorized as currently using alcohol with some excess. 54.6 percent of current users of alcohol had engaged in binge drinking behaviors. This accounts for 1 of every 5 high school girls taking part in binge drinking. Many of these young women came from households that are classified as upper-middle and middle class families with household incomes equal to or greater than $75,000 a year.

"It is alarming to see that binge drinking is so common among women and girls, and that women and girls are drinking so much when they do," claimed Dr. Robert Brewer of the CDC's Alcohol Program. "The good news is that the same scientifically proven strategies for communities and clinical settings that we know can prevent binge drinking in the overall population can also work to prevent binge drinking among women and girls."

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism advises that to maintain one´s status as a “low-risk” drinker, women should drink no more than three drinks per day and no more than seven drinks in a week´s time. "What we really want to do is encourage people to follow those guidelines for drinking," stated Brewer.

It is only after you go over those limits that one could be putting himself or herself at risk for alcohol dependence or even alcohol abuse. It is estimated that 1 in 4 people who drink already qualify as dependent.

With this report, the CDC hopes to bolster the actions of the major public policy health initiative Healthy People 2020 in their program to reduce the prevalence of binge drinking among both adults and youths, alike.

One interesting aspect of the report was the direct correlation of alcohol consumption between adults and adolescents, on the state level. Researchers claim this reflects the influence of adult drinking behavior on youths and is most likely attributed to the fact that young adults will not only want to emulate the behaviors they see in adults, but also because they typically obtain the alcohol they consume from adults in their lives.

Additionally, the drinking behavior of both adults and youths is affected directly by the availability and price of alcoholic beverages in their locales, as well as certain cultural and religious mores that exist in each state and region.

While there have been several programs enacted by both public policy groups and the alcoholic beverage industry to curb youth drinking, the idea of binge drinking has not enjoyed the same spotlight, where prevention efforts are concerned.

Industry efforts, however, are viewed by many health and public policy professionals as mere lip-service. This may be evidenced in the fact that while at the same time they are advocating for responsible drinking, a significant amount of their marketing budgets go toward the underage market. The CDC report states that underage girls are overexposed to alcohol marketing relative to women to an even greater extent than underage boys are overexposed to alcohol marketing relative to men. This marketing exposure increases the risk that girls will initiate alcohol consumption and then consume more alcohol when they do drink.

David Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, says it is crucial the problem is highlighted. "We've watched a shift from girls drinking beer to distilled spirits," he says. "They are experimenting with the strongest form of the drug available."

Now, it is no secret that binge drinking is more prevalent among men. However, women who binge drink are at a high risk for alcohol-attributable harms. This has to do, in no small part, with the basic physiologic differences between men and women. Women will reach an elevated blood alcohol level exceeding men even if they consume the same quantity of alcohol.

Evidence-based strategies to curb binge drinking are being recommended by the Guide to Community Preventive Services. Some of their ideas include putting limits on the number of alcohol retailers for a given area, enacting stricter penalties and liabilities for retailers related to the sale of alcoholic beverages to minors and intoxicated patrons, maintaining existing limits on the days and hours when alcohol is available for sale and increasing the sale price of alcohol, among others.

CDC Director Thomas Frieden says there are ways to prevent excessive drinking. "Effective community measures can support women and girls in making wise choices about whether to drink or how much to drink if they do," he says. "Each of us can choose not to binge drink."