August 19, 2019

Beyond a hangover, binge drinking can create long-term health risks.


You might want to think before you go out drinking tonight.

A study published in June 2018 found that young adults who frequently binge drink were more likely to have specific cardiovascular risk factors such as higher blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar at a younger age than non-binge drinkers.

Binge drinking is commonly defined as someone drinking enough alcohol to bring blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent or higher. Typically that’s considered consumption of five or more drinks within two hours for men; and four or more drinks within two hours for women.

Mariann Piano, Ph.D., FAAN, senior associate dean of research at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, co-authored the study.

The research, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found that binge drinking by young men was associated with higher systolic blood pressure, the force on blood vessels when the heart beats. Frequent binge drinking had additional effects on cholesterol. High blood pressure and cholesterol levels are factors contributing to cardiovascular disease. Female binge drinkers had higher blood sugar levels than those who did not drink alcohol.

In reporting her findings, Piano said that young adults — for example, college students — need to be aware that repeated binge drinking may have consequences beyond the immediate.

“The risk extends beyond poor school performance and increased risk for accidental injury,” she said. Current evidence suggests that development of high blood pressure before age 45 is associated with significantly higher risks of cardiovascular death later in life.


Men’s risks, vs. women’s

The study also found differences in how binge drinking affected young men and women.

Young men who reported that they repeatedly binge drink had higher systolic blood pressure and total cholesterol. Young women who repeatedly binge drink had higher blood sugar levels compared to non-binge drinkers.

Piano and her co-authors examined high blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and other cardiovascular risks in 4,710 adults ages 18 to 45 who responded to the 2011-2012 and 2013-2014 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Participants were classified as non-drinkers, binge drinkers 12 times or less a year, and high-frequency binge drinkers (more than 12 times a year).

High-frequency binge drinking was reported by 25.1 percent of men and 11.8 percent of women. Binge drinking 12 times a year or less was reported by 29.0 percent of men and 25.1 percent of women.

Binge drinking rates are at an all-time high, Piano said. One in five college-age students reports three or more binge drinking episodes in the prior two weeks. More students drink to get drunk, then black out. They consume six to seven drinks per binge drinking episode. Compared to previous generations, the regularity and intensity of binge drinking may place today’s youth at greater risk for alcohol-related harm.

The study’s co-authors are Larisa Burke, MPH; Minkyung Kang, Ph.D.; and Shane A. Phillips, Ph.D., MPT. The National Institutes of Health funded the study.

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