Drinking Beyond the Binge Threshold: Predictors, Consequences, and Changes in the U.S

Am J Prev Med. 2017 Jun;52(6):717-727. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2017.02.014.


Introduction: Binge drinking, five or more drinks on an occasion for men and four or more for women, marks risky alcohol use. However, this dichotomous variable removes information about higher, more dangerous consumption. This paper examines predictors, consequences, and changes over a decade in drinking one to two times, two to three times, and three or more times standard gender-specific binge thresholds, labeled Levels I, II, and III.

Methods: In 2001-2002 and 2012-2013, respectively, 42,748 and 36,083 U.S. respondents aged ≥18 years were interviewed in person in cross-sectional waves of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (response rates, 81% and 61%). Respondents were asked their past-year maximum drink consumption per day, categorized as Levels I, II, or III. Predictors and whether Levels II and III were associated with more negative consequences were analyzed in 2012-2013 data.

Results: In 2001-2002, 23% of adults reported past-year binge drinking, with 15% peaking at Level I, 5% at Level II, and 3% at Level III. In 2012-2013, those percentages increased significantly to 33% binging, and 20%, 8%, and 5% binging at Levels I, II, and III, respectively. After adjusting for alcohol use disorder, the strongest predictor of Level I, II, and III binging, Level III versus I and non-binge drinkers had higher odds of past-year driving after drinking and, after drinking, experiencing physical fights, injuries, emergency department visits, arrests/detentions, and other legal problems.

Conclusions: Level II and III-relative to Level I-binging is associated with more negative alcohol consequences and may be increasing nationally. Research needs to explore prevention and counseling interventions.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / epidemiology*
  • Automobile Driving / statistics & numerical data
  • Binge Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • United States / epidemiology