Prevalence of adult binge drinking: a comparison of two national surveys

Am J Prev Med. 2004 Oct;27(3):197-204. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2004.05.004.


Background: Binge drinking (defined as five or more drinks on an occasion) causes approximately half of the estimated 85,000 alcohol-related deaths in the United States each year. The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a telephone survey, and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an in-person survey, provide population-based estimates of binge drinking. Evaluating the concordance of binge drinking estimates from the BRFSS and the NSDUH is important for surveillance and for planning prevention programs.

Methods: In 2003, combined data on binge drinking for 1999 and 2001 from the BRFSS (n =355,371) and the NSDUH (n =87,145) were analyzed for respondents aged >or=18 years.

Results: National binge drinking estimates were 14.7% (95% confidence interval [CI]=14.5-15.2) for BRFSS and 21.6% (CI=21.2-22.0) for NSDUH. Although there was good correlation between state-specific binge drinking estimates from the two surveys (Pearson's r =0.82), the BRFSS state estimates were significantly lower (p <0.05) than the NSDUH estimates in 46 states and the District of Columbia. The demographic characteristics of binge drinkers and the wording of the binge question were similar in the two surveys. However, in 1999, NSDUH changed from paper interviews to computer-administered interviews, and incorporated an internal validity check with feedback questions to resolve inconsistent responses.

Conclusions: Estimates of binge drinking from the NSDUH were consistently higher than those from the BRFSS, probably due to differences in survey methodology. Continued efforts to improve binge drinking surveillance are important for preventing this public health problem.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / ethnology
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Government Programs
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Program Evaluation
  • Sample Size
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology