With binge drinking at all-time high, Vanderbilt study highlights health risks to young people

With binge drinking at all-time high, Vanderbilt study highlights health risks to young people

On the heels of County Health Rankings indicating that 17 percent of people in Williamson County drink “excessive” amounts of alcohol, Vanderbilt University Medical Center released new findings 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.

In the County Health Rankings, excessive drinkers were described as those who drink more than four or five drinks in a single occasion or more than one to two drinks a day, on average.

Another study from a health research center at the University of Washington found that Williamson County, Davidson County and Shelby County had the highest proportion of binge drinkers in Tennessee between 2002 and 2012.

In the new Vanderbilt study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers found that binge drinking by young men was associated with higher systolic blood pressure (the force on blood vessels when the heart beats) and that frequent binge drinking had additional effects on cholesterol, both factors in contributing to cardiovascular disease. Female binge drinkers had higher blood glucose levels than abstainers.

Mariann Piano, senior associate dean of research at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, and her co-authors examined high blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and other cardiovascular risks in 4,710 adults ages 18-45 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 pervasiveness, regularity and intensity of binge drinking may place today’s youth at greater risk for alcohol-related harm.

The Vanderbilt study’s co-authors are Larisa Burke, MPH; Minkyung Kang, PhD; and Shane A. Phillips, PhD, MPT.

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