Sep. 5, 2007 Beer is the beverage of choice for most adult binge drinkers, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The beverage preferences of excessive drinkers are important to public health because binge drinking is a common problem in the United States and because binge drinkers — and those around them — are especially vulnerable to alcohol-related problems, said lead study author Timothy Naimi, M.D.
“This study isn’t looking at alcohol consumed by people drinking responsibly, or moderately; this is alcohol consumed by people drinking five or more drinks in a sitting, so almost all of them are going to be impaired — if not overtly intoxicated. This is exactly the kind of drinking behavior that leads to so many deaths and secondhand problems that inflict real pain and costs on society, not just the drinker,” said Naimi, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC’s Division of Adult and Community Health.
The study, which appears in the September issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, reports on the beverage preferences of more than 14,000 binge drinkers across 18 states.
Seventy-four percent of the binge drinkers surveyed said they drank beer exclusively or predominantly in their most recent binge-drinking episode. Beer accounted for 67 percent of binge drinks consumed; distilled spirits or liquor was second with 22 percent of drinks; and wine and other flavored premixed drinks accounted for 11 percent of binge drinks.
Beer was also the first choice of drinkers who are most likely to cause harm because of alcohol-fueled behavior.
“These are some of the most dangerous groups — underage drinkers, people who drank eight or more drinks on one occasion and people who drove during or just after their drinking episode,” Naimi said.
Naimi and his colleagues are calling for more equal — and stringent — laws and policies to limit excessive drinking across all types of alcoholic beverages.
“Sadly, there’s lots of binge drinking going on with all kinds of drinks, and there are lots of effective polices that haven’t been widely adopted,” Naimi said. “And there are other laws, like those related to selling alcohol to minors or selling to those who are already drunk, that aren’t reliably enforced.”
Laws that tax alcohol and limit its accessibility work well to curb excessive drinking, but in the United States beer sales enjoy favorable treatment over liquor and wine, according to the CDC researchers.
“Beer is sold in far more locations, especially outlets like convenience stores and gas stations — where impulse purchases are common. Beer taxes at the state and federal level are low and beer is king in terms of aggressive marketing to young adults, who are especially likely to drink and get drunk,” Naimi said.
“All of these factors may, and I underscore ‘may,’ contribute to our study findings,” he said. “Choosing a beverage is extremely complex and some of the decision might be governed by these policy factors; some of it might be governed by social factors, family habits or country of origin. It’s a complicated formula and it’s a very important limitation of the study.”
"But from a public health standpoint, it doesn’t make sense that beer is marketed, taxed and distributed in a more permissive way than other beverages," Naimi said.
Legal and public policy researcher James Mosher said toughening up beer-control laws is a good first step toward reducing binge-drinking ills.
“These public policy measures are effective. We know that if we raise the price we are going to reduce underage drinking and binge drinking. Trying to change culture and longtime habits is just very difficult to do,” said Mosher, director of the Center for the Study of Law and Enforcement Policy at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.
“There’s this popular belief that beer is the alcoholic beverage of moderation and that it is really not as dangerous as distilled spirits. This study really challenges that popular notion,” he said.
Reference: Naimi TS, et al. What do binge drinkers drink? Implications for alcohol control policy. Am J Prev Med 33(3), 2007.
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