Vidyya Medical News Service
Volume 6 Issue 94 Published - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 3-Apr-2004 Next Update - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 4-Apr-2004
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NIAAA council approves definition of binge drinking

On February 5, 2004, the NIAAA National Advisory Council approved the following definition/statement:

A "binge" is a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 gram percent or above. For the typical adult, this pattern corresponds to consuming 5 or more drinks (male), or 4 or more drinks (female), in about 2 hours. Binge drinking is clearly dangerous for the drinker and for society.

  • In the above definition, a "drink" refers to half an ounce of alcohol (e.g., one 12–oz. beer, one 5–oz. glass of wine, or one1.5–oz. shot of distilled spirits).

  • Binge drinking is distinct from "risky" drinking (reaching a peak BAC between .05 gram percent and .08 gram percent) and a "bender" (2 or more days of sustained heavy drinking).

  • For some individuals (e.g., older people or people taking other drugs or certain medications), the number of drinks needed to reach a binge–level BAC is lower than for the "typical adult."

  • People with risk factors for the development of alcoholism have increased risk with any level of alcohol consumption, even that below a "risky" level. 

  • For pregnant women, any drinking presents risk to the fetus.

  • Drinking by persons under the age of 21 is illegal.

The Council's decision was based on a recommendation from a task force chaired by NIAAA Associate Director Dr. Mark Goldman. "The task force was charged with developing a recommended definition of binge drinking for use in the field's future research efforts," said Dr. Lorraine Gunzerath, acting chief, Strategic Research Planning Branch in NIAAA's Office of Scientific Affairs, who spearheaded the task force report. Task force members included Drs. Raul Caetano, Sandra Brown, Kenneth Hoffman, George Koob, Sean O'Connor, and Kenneth Sher. The group held a workshop November 4–5, 2003, to determine the factors that define heavy episodic drinking or distinguish it from other patterns of alcohol use and abuse, including cut–off points, amounts, or timeframes; predictive factors; trajectories; and outcomes. Over the 2–day workshop, the task force heard invited presentations in the areas of neurobiology, physiology, psychology, sociocultural contexts, and measurement issues. After reviewing the presented material, the members reconvened on February 4, 2004, to produce a consensus definition, and submitted their recommendation to the full Council for approval.

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