Someone, somewhere designated April as Alcohol Awareness Month. And it’s really not a bad idea to take a look at alcohol in our lives. Especially since we hear so much about opioid use and overdose these days, and much less about alcohol.
While only 9.2% of Americans ages 18 and older have used an illegal drug in the past month, studies show that over 54% of men and 51% of women in this age group reported that they drank alcohol in the past month. Most drank moderately with no problems related to their alcohol use. However, during the COVID pandemic, a Rand Corporation study shows that 14% of all Americans over 30 increased their drinking. The CDC reports that one in five adults said they indulged in “heavy drinking” to cope with pandemic stress. Teens, however, reduced their alcohol use during the pandemic, with 17% saying while they did binge drink before the pandemic, only 13% did it during the pandemic. Good oversight, parents!
Before the pandemic, almost 26% of all Americans aged 18 years and older reported binge drinking in the past 30 days. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), binge drinking is five or more drinks within a few hours for men and four drinks for women.
A significant number of people regularly consume even higher amounts of alcohol: double or triple the standard binge drinking threshold. Researchers are beginning to distinguish between typical binge drinking and “high-intensity drinking,” which is often associated with special occasions, including holidays, college parties, sporting events, and birthdays.
High-intensity drinking has many adverse consequences. These include alcohol-related injuries, alcohol poisoning, risky sexual behavior, passing out, blacking out, and long-term harm to academic or occupational status. Some studies have begun to show that the long-term effects of high-intensity drinking at age 18 are associated with higher incidence of alcohol abuse disorder at age 35.
We know that high-intensity drinking is relatively common, especially among teens and young adults, and it appears to peak around age 21. When it doesn’t, binge drinkers may need to seek counseling or peer support for their drinking.