Binge drinking among women and girls is a health problem that is serious but under-recognized, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in a report today.
About 1 in 8 women and 1 in 5 high school girls binge drink, according to the CDC's Vital Signs report. Binge drinking for women is defined as consuming four or more alcohol drinks, such as beer, liquor or wine, on an occasion.
The study found that binge drinking was most common among women ages 18-34 and high school girls. It also was most prevalent among women living in households with annual incomes of $75,000 or higher.
The report notes special concerns about binge drinking among women. Women and girls metabolize, or process, alcohol differently than men and boys.
The CDC warns binge drinking puts women at a higher risk for breast cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, heart disease and unintended pregnancy. Binge drinking during pregnancy can lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and sudden infant death syndrome.
David Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, says it is crucial that the problem is highlighted.
"We've watched a shift from girls drinking beer to distilled spirits," he says. "They are experimenting with the strongest form of the drug available."
The Distilled Spirits Council says the industry works to reduce binge drinking through programs such as The Century Council's "Girl Talk." "For women of legal drinking age, we continue to encourage them to follow the advice of the federal government's dietary guidelines," according to a statement.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans define moderate alcohol consumption as up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men.
CDC Director Thomas Frieden says there are ways to prevent excessive drinking. "Effective community measures can support women and girls in making wise choices about whether to drink or how much to drink if they do," he says. "Each of us can choose not to binge drink."