Dangers of Binge Drinking: Americans Drink 17 Billion Beverages During Binges Each Year

Americans drink more than 17 billion alcoholic beverages during binges each year—yes, billion. To be clear: If all those drinks were bottled 12-ounce beers, pouring them out would fill the Great Pyramid of Giza more than twice. If all those empties were put end to end, there would be enough bottles to go back and forth between the earth and the moon five times. And that's just drinks consumed during binges, according to new data published Friday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a phone-based survey, nearly one in five Americans reported binge drinking at least once in the past month. Based on the data, Americans binge about 53 times each year on average and have an average of seven drinks during those "episodes."

Non-Hispanic white people had the highest rates of binge drinking, and college graduates reported a higher prevalence of it—19 percent—than people with less than a high school education. States in the upper Midwest and New England had some of the highest age-adjusted rates, while men accounted for 72 percent of all the binge-drinking episodes.

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A selection at Ales Unlimited in San Francisco on March 2. Americans drink more than 17 billion alcoholic beverages each year during binges, according to new research. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

However, the authors noted, looking at prevalent rates wasn't necessarily the best way to address binge drinking. For one thing, a group with high prevalence rates isn't necessarily the one that's drinking the most during binges. Adults with less than a high school education might not be as likely to be binge drinkers but consume nearly twice as many drinks when they do.

The findings are based on 2015 data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. States are responsible for running the system, which calls landlines and cellphones every month. The survey asks on how many days in the past month someone drank and how much they drank on average on those days—but also how many times they drank more than four or five drinks in one sitting, which is the definition of binge drinking set by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

But because these data are self-reported, it's possible that the numbers actually underestimate the problem—and to be clear, binge drinking is a problem. It kills about 44,000 people each year and is estimated to cost the U.S. economy nearly $200 billion per year due to lost productivity and healthcare expenses.

It's St. Patrick's Day on Saturday, and encouraging people to drink in moderation is probably going to land on deaf ears. But if you do decide to binge-drink on Saturday, call a cab or take public transit instead of driving home.