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CDC: Binge Drinking in Women and Girls an Unrecognized Problem

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Binge drinking is surprisingly common amongst women and girls in the United States, according to the findings of a survey released Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC’s 2011 survey on alcohol use found that one in eight U.S. women binge drink, and that one in five high school girls exhibit the behavior.

The numbers may be made worse by the fact that this survey measured self-reported behaviors -- a method known to underestimate negative behaviors due to bias.

According to the CDC, drinking too much -- including binge drinking -- is responsible for about 23,000 deaths among women and girls in the United States each year. Of these deaths, the CDC estimates that binge drinking is responsible for about 12,000 deaths annually and 315,000 years of potential life lost.

In a Tuesday teleconference, CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden called binge drinking “the most common and dangerous form of drinking,” citing it as a risk factor for unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, heart disease, reduced cognitive function, breast cancer and other health problems in women.

Also present at the teleconference was Dr. Richard Brewer, head of the CDC’s alcohol program, who noted: “Binge drinking is not a new problem for women and girls, but it is an underrecognized problem for women and girls.”

Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks in a sitting.  In its report, the CDC found that the overall prevalence of binge drinking in women over the age of 18 was 12.5 percent with an average of 3.2 episodes per month and 5.7 drinks per episode.

The report also found that it is most common among women aged 18-24 with 24 percent of women stating that they had an episode of binge drinking in the past 30 days.  Binge drinking is more common in white women and those with household incomes exceeding $75,000.

Among high school girls, 38 percent reported current alcohol use, with just over half of current users admitting to binge drinking.  Binge drinking behavior increased with grade, with 27 percent of 12th grade girls reporting binge drinking versus 13 percent of 9th grade girls.

Overall, binge drinking continues to be more prevalent among men, with about twice as many men as women engaging in binge drinking. However, this difference is less pronounced in teenagers, with 24 percent of boys and 20 percent of girls reporting binge drinking.

Regardless of age, Frieden and Brewer warned that women are at high risk for the negative consequences of binge drinking. After drinking, women tend to have higher blood alcohol levels due to differences in the way women metabolize alcohol. Additionally, women who binge drink are more likely to have unintended and unknown pregnancies and may inadvertently expose a fetus to the dangers of alcohol.

Frieden and Brewer said during the teleconference that families, communities and health care providers all have the power to curb binge drinking -- both in women and in society as a whole.

“Parents play a key role in preventing youth from starting or continuing to drink,” Frieden said, adding that community programs play a role and that it is imperative for health care providers to ask about and counsel on drinking issues. For women and girls, these interventions may have a big impact on both current and future health.  

As a final rule of thumb, Frieden offered the following advice to women who drink alcohol: “Never four or more.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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