Isolated Evaluation Can Miss Binge Drinkers

Compared to every other demographic group in the U.S., college students are particularly likely to get involved in binge drinking, a form of alcohol intake that results in legally defined intoxication. However, no one really knows if students who frequently binge drink go through cycles where their participation in alcohol binging drops off or even stops. In a study published in August 2014 in the journal Substance Abuse, a group of Canadian researchers measured the binge-drinking tendencies of a group of college undergraduates. The researchers concluded that, while these young binge drinkers typically drank heavily, they sometimes went through periods of reduced alcohol intake.

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is sometimes known by another term: heavy episodic drinking. Participants in this form of alcohol consumption purposefully or unintentionally drink enough alcohol in a couple of hours to reach the impairing state of drunkenness associated with legal intoxication (a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher). Because of differences in body size and speed of alcohol processing, men and women typically need to consume gender-specific amounts of alcohol to meet the basic binge-drinking criterion. For men, the common threshold is at least four standard servings of alcohol (each containing 0.6 oz of pure alcohol) in two hours or less. Women have a lower threshold of at least three standard alcohol servings over the same span of time. As a rule, alcohol binging occurs more often in younger adults. However, adults of all ages binge to some degree. In fact, while they go on binges less often than younger drinkers, senior citizens actually consume more alcohol per binge.

College and Alcohol Binging

Age-wise, the highest rate of binge drinking in America (45.1 percent) occurs among young adults in their early 20s. Students enrolled in colleges and universities maintain an even higher binging rate, according to figures compiled by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. In fact, in an average two-week span of time, almost 50 percent of all college students will go on a binge at least once. Like all alcohol bingers, students have increased risks for a range of very serious problems, including motor vehicle accidents, rape and other types of sexual assault, physical assault and alcohol use disorder (alcohol abuse and/or alcoholism). Collectively, millions of U.S. college students between the ages of 18 and 24 experience these binging-related harms every year. Many students first start drinking when they enroll in college. Students who already drink when they begin college frequently increase their intake levels in the first weeks or months of school.

Do Bingers Change Their Drinking Patterns?

In the study published in Substance Abuse, researchers from Dalhousie University, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine and two other Canadian institutions used an examination of the alcohol binging patterns of 114 college freshmen to help determine if binge drinkers always drink heavily or go through periods of reduced binging involvement. Specifically, the researchers wanted to know if an established pattern of binge drinking is a fixed trait or a trait that changes over time. All of the study participants submitted information on their drinking behaviors three times over a 130-day span of time. The researchers used the data from these self-reports to create an alcohol binging profile for each individual.

After completing their profiles, the researchers concluded that the binge drinkers in the study group did indeed generally maintain a consistent level of involvement in heavy alcohol consumption. However, they also concluded that any given person with an established pattern of binging can go through periods where his or her level of intake temporarily drops. Based on this finding, the researchers concluded that college binge drinking appears to have two components: a fairly steady tendency to drink excessively and an occasional tendency to modify drinking behaviors based on factors such as personal preference and the need to adapt to specific situations where binging is clearly detrimental in the mind of the individual.

The study’s authors believe their findings point out the dangers of using isolated evaluations to determine whether a college student engages in binge drinking. If an evaluation occurs when a habitual binge drinker has temporarily cut back on alcohol consumption, a doctor can potentially overlook that individual and miss an opportunity to provide needed advice and assistance. Similarly, a researcher conducting an isolated evaluation may underestimate the extent of binge drinking in a college population.

Posted on September 17th, 2014
Posted in Young Adults

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