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Am J Prev Med. 2012 Jun;42(6):625-9. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2012.03.001.

Binge drinking intensity: a comparison of two measures.

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Alcohol Program, Epidemiology and Surveillance Branch, Division of Population Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, CDC, Atlanta, GA 30341, USA.



Binge drinking (≥ 4 drinks for women; ≥ 5 drinks for men, per occasion) is responsible for more than half of the estimated 80,000 U.S. deaths annually and three-quarters of the $223.5 billion in costs in 2006. Binge drinking prevalence is assessed more commonly than binge drinking intensity (i.e., number of drinks consumed per binge episode). Risk of binge drinking-related harm increases with intensity, and thus it is important to monitor. The largest number of drinks consumed is assessed in health surveys, but its usefulness for assessing binge intensity is unknown.


To assess the agreement between two potential measures of binge drinking intensity: the largest number of drinks consumed by binge drinkers (maximum-drinks) and the total number of drinks consumed during their most recent binge episode (drinks-per-binge).


Data were analyzed from 7909 adult binge drinkers from 14 states responding to the 2008 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) binge drinking module. Mean and median drinks-per-binge from that module were compared to mean and median maximum-drinks. Analyses were conducted in 2010-2011.


Mean (8.2) and median (5.9) maximum-drinks were strongly correlated with mean (7.4) and median (5.4) drinks-per-binge (r=0.57). These measures were also strongly correlated across most sociodemographic and drinking categories overall and within states.


The maximum-drinks consumed by binge drinkers is a practical method for assessing binge drinking intensity and thus can be used to plan and evaluate Community Guide-recommended strategies for preventing binge drinking (e.g., increasing the price of alcoholic beverages and regulating alcohol outlet density).

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