Binge Drinking Poses Risks Even for Moderate Drinkers

Heaving drinking episodes in older moderate drinkers associated with an increased risk of death

(RxWiki News) Binge drinking is a known health problem among heavy drinkers. Even people who drink less may face serious risks from episodes of heavy drinking.

A recent study found that older moderate drinkers who engaged in heavy drinking episodes had a significantly increased risk of dying over a 20-year period compared to older adults who engaged in regular moderate drinking.

The researchers concluded that heavy episodic drinking is a significant public health problem, even when a person's average alcohol consumption is moderate.

"Limit how much alcohol you drink each day."

The lead author of this study was Charles J. Holahan, PhD, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas.

The study included 446 adults who were considered to be moderate drinkers at baseline. All the participants were between the ages of 55 and 65 years old, and the average age was 62 years old.

There were 112 women and 334 men. Ninety percent of the participants were Caucasian, and 79 percent of the participants were married.

Moderate drinkers were defined as individuals whose average daily alcohol consumption during the last month was at least one-half of a drink per day, but no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

The participants were then categorized further into two drinking groups:

  • Heavy episodic drinking — defined as having consumed four or more (for women) or five or more (for men) drinks on the occasion when the largest amount of drinking was reported
  • Regular moderate drinking — defined as having less than four (for women) or less than five (for men) drinks on the occasion where the largest amount of drinking was reported

Of the participants, 74 (or 17 percent) were heavy episodic drinkers, and 372 (or 83 percent) participants were regular moderate drinkers.

The researchers conducted follow-ups after 20 years.

The findings showed that 45 participants who engaged in heavy episodic drinking died, and 137 participants who engaged in regular moderate drinking died during the study period. The death rate was 61 percent for the heavy episodic drinking group, and 37 percent for the regular moderate drinking group.

The researchers determined that the participants who engaged in heavy episodic drinking had 2.13 times increased odds of dying during the 20 years of follow-up compared to the participants who engaged in regular moderate drinking.

In addition, the participants who engaged in heavy episodic drinking were three times more likely to have been problem drinkers at baseline compared to the participants who engaged in regular moderate drinking.

The participants with baseline drinking problems were more likely to die during the study period than the participants who did not have drinking problems.

Daniel Berarducci, MA, a Clinical Professional Counselor at Person-Holistic Innovations in Las Vegas, Nevada, told dailyRx News that he had some concerns about the design of this study.

"There are some concerns for myself with the nature of this study as it appears they made correlational inferences, which does not demonstrate significant scientific understandings," Berarducci said.

"One of the confounding problems that I briefly read was that the study was done with individuals who were aged 55 to 65 with a follow-up after 20 years; however, for any of those individuals, they are approaching the average life expectancy for their appropriate sex. We also do not know the causes of death for each of the individuals in the study, which could have occurred from accidents (which older individuals are more prone to), other medical concerns, etc.," he said.

Dr. Holahan and team mentioned a few limitations of their study.

First, some important outside factors may not have been considered. Second, alcohol consumption was self-reported.

Third, episodic heavy drinking was determined by beverage type, so some episodes of heavy drinking may have been missed if more than one type of alcoholic beverage was consumed on the largest drinking occasion.

Fourth, changes in alcohol consumption over the study period were not considered. Fifth, these findings may not applicable to the general population.

This study was published on March 3 in Alcoholism Clinical & Experimental Research.

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Service provided funding.

Review Date: 
March 2, 2014