Binge drinking among women is a "serious, under-recognized problem," according to the CDC.

Story highlights

Millions of women and girls engage in binge drinking, experts say

Women are more susceptible to the long-term effects of drinking

About 62% of high school senior girls who drink report binge drinking

CNN  — 

Millions of high school-aged girls and women binge drink, behavior that can have disastrous results including long-term health effects, the CDC warns in a report released Tuesday.

For females, binge drinking means consuming four or more drinks in one sitting. For males, it’s five or more drinks.

Previous reports have focused on higher rates of binge drinking among males, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in its report, aims to raise awareness of binge drinking among women as a serious problem that’s held steady for more than a decade.

“Although binge drinking is more of a problem among men and boys, binge drinking is an important and under-recognized women’s health issue,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director.

Of the estimated 23,000 annual deaths attributed to excessive alcohol use among women and girls, binge drinking was responsible for more than half of those deaths, said Frieden.

Americans binge drinking more

Binge drinking is the most common and most dangerous pattern of excess drinking, he said.

Women process alcohol differently than men and tend to be smaller, meaning they are more susceptible to effects of drinking, including heart disease, cancer, stroke and liver disease, to name a few. Other unintended consequences might include pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, the report said.

To describe the prevalence of binge drinking, the CDC analyzed data from its 2011 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an annual telephone survey, and the national 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, an anonymous questionnaire completed by high school students nationwide.

While most binge drinkers are not alcohol-dependent, it can also lead to dependence.

About 50% of all the alcohol consumed by adults, and about 90% of all the alcohol consumed by young people is consumed during a binge drinking session, according to Frieden.

In 2011, when the data was collected, more than 12.5% of U.S. adult women engaged in binge drinking an average of three times per month, drinking an average of six drinks. That’s nearly 14 million women. One in 8 women binge drink, according to the report.

One in 5 high school girls binge drink, which is nearly as high as the binge drinking rates among high school boys.

While binge-drinking rates have fallen among boys over the past 10 years, “binge-drinking rates among women … really haven’t changed very much over a 15-plus-year period,” said Dr. Robert Brewer, of the alcohol program division of the CDC’s national Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Binge drinking may harm learning, memory

The greatest frequency of binge drinking is found among women aged 18-34 and high-school-age girls. About 62% of high school senior girls who drink reported binge drinking, according to Frieden.

So what can be done? Effective strategies combating binge drinking would include health care providers speaking to women and girls about their drinking habits, Frieden said.

Medical caregivers should encourage less consumption for girls and women if they suspect they are consuming too much.

Parents need to play a role in preventing their children from drinking.

Pregnant women and underage youth should not drink at all, Frieden stressed.

U.S. dietary guidelines recommend drinking in moderation – up to one drink daily for women and up to two for men.

“What we really want to do is encourage people to follow those guidelines for drinking,” said Brewer.

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