Binge drinking rates have increased across the country, according to a new study from the National Institutes of Health.
"This important study reveals that a large number of people in the United States drink at very high levels and underscores the dangers associated with such ‘extreme' binge drinking," said George F. Koob, Ph.D., director of NIH's National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
"The motivation was to better understand just how much people in the U.S. actually drink," said Aaron White, Ph.D., a researcher at NIH who co-authored the study. "A percentage of that [drinking] population goes to great extremes at least once a year," he added.
Using previously compiled data, the study found that binge drinking increased overall since 2001.
Results showed that between 2001 and 2012, binge drinking rates for all respondents above age 18 increased from 22 percent to 33 percent.
Men reported higher incidents of binge drinking, 47.9 percent in 2001 to 48.1 percent in 2013. Women reported a slight decrease, 52.1 percent in 2001 to 51.9 percent in 2013.
All of the age groups saw significant increases, except for 18- to 21-year-olds.
Across race and ethnicity, only Native Americans experienced a decrease.
Significant increases were also recorded regardless of employment or marital status.
The data was collected through the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, a periodic survey administered by the NIAAA on alcohol use and consumption.
Researchers used three waves of data collected in 2001-02, 2004-05, and 2012-13 through in-person interviews and self-reporting. White also clarified that the data was collected independent of the authored study.
The definition of binge drinking was subdivided into three levels.
For women, level one includes four to seven drinks, level two includes eight to 11 drinks, and level three includes 12 or more drinks on a single occasion.
For men, level one includes five to nine drinks, level two includes 10 to 14 drinks, and level three includes 15 or more drinks on a single occasion.
Respondents who peaked at each of the three levels also increased from 2001 to 2013.
"We took an approach and added a couple of categories; we took the binge threshold and multiplied it," White said. He explained that the lower threshold was based on the average number of drinks needed to surpass the blood alcohol level that would prohibit someone from driving.
White added that prior studies categorized respondents as either binge drinkers or non-binge drinkers.
White explained that the study had limitations since data collection relied heavily on self-reporting.
"There are limits to the veracity of self-report data," he said. "It's not the people intentionally misleading the researchers; it's that people aren't always aware of how much they drink."
White said he hopes his study would bring attention to the dangers of binge drinking.
"This study is really a reminder that if you binge drink and raise your blood alcohol level to .08, it's illegal and dangerous but in reality, lots of people go way past that level and drink at levels that could potentially cause death," he added.