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Alcohol consumers show strong variations in demographic characteristics, alcohol intake, frequency, duration and profile of consumption. Individuals consuming up to two drinks per day (men) or one drink per day (women) are defined as moderate drinkers and do not have an increased risk compared to abstainers. Conversely, a high-risk pattern, defined as daily consumption above those limits, or binge drinking episodes, cause health, personal and social problems. This definition separates chronic drinkers from binge drinkers, as their drinking patterns are different. Binge drinking implies “drinking too much too fast”. Periods of binge drinking (several consecutive days, weeks or months) are typically followed by periods of abstinence or, in some cases, significantly lower levels of consumption.1 The threshold of alcohol intake per episode which is used to define binge drinking varies from one study to another. In order to propose a consensual definition, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (Bethesda, Maryland, USA) defines binge drinking episodes as consumption of five or more drinks (male) or four or more drinks (female) in the space of about 2 h.2 This definition is not clear-cut. It does not consider the amount of alcohol intake in one binge episode, nor the possibility that some individuals may go on several binges during the same day. Moreover, the behaviour of some binge drinkers may overlap that of chronic drinkers, with several binges over several consecutive days. The latter issue has been partially addressed by previous studies showing that repetition of binge episodes during adolescence constitutes a risk factor for being a chronic drinker during adulthood.
A considerable increase in binge drinking is currently being seen in Western countries. This tendency appears to be more striking in beer- and spirit-drinking cultures in the UK and northern Europe.3 Young people seem particularly prone to …
Competing interests: None.