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In a first of its kind study, researchers from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington have begun examining alcohol use—specifically the effects of binge and heavy drinking—across county lines, in an effort to help respective lawmakers and health officials produce effective, tailored policies and programs. While it’s no secret that alcohol abuse and addiction is a major part of American society and culture (even for those not suffering from alcoholism can excessive consumption be an unhealthy practice), the rates of binge and heavy drinking have become especially poignant amongst a surprising party which, according to many experts, has heretofore been largely left out of the spotlight within the realm of addiction: women.

For our purposes, it might help to know the difference between ‘heavy’ drinking, and ‘binge’ drinking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines the former as exceeding an average of one drink per day for women, or two drinks per day for men, over the course of one month. This type of drinking is associated with long-term conditions such as liver cirrhosis and cardiovascular disease. Binge drinking, on the other hand, is defined as the consumption of four or more drinks for women on a single occasion, or five or more drinks for men. This is what we mostly see with teens and college students, resulting in immediate side-effects such as injuries, alcohol poisoning, and organ damage.

In the initial stages of the study, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health, it was very revealing that the “most striking” disparities in binge drinking habits were found within states, rather than between. Via an article posted on Medicals News Today:

As an example, the researchers explain that rates of overall binge drinking in Texas ranged from 10.8% in Collingsworth County to 35.5% in Loving County—so while one Texan county was well below the national binge drinking average of 18.3%, another county in the same state had levels of binge drinking nearly twice that average.”

It was revealed in the researchers’ findings that for women especially was there a much higher increase in binge drinking than their male counterparts, with binge drinking among women rising by 17.5% between 2005 and 2012. A stark figure when compared to the measly 4.9% increase in binge drinking among men. According to Dr. Ali Mokdad, lead author of the study and professor at IHME, these trends in alcohol overconsumption are alarming, especially when reiterating the fact that in many U.S. counties a quarter—or more—of the people are binge drinkers.

Basically what all these facts and figures boil down to is the widely understood fact that a blanket approach to treating alcoholism in the U.S. isn’t going to work. Instead, Mokdad and his team have succeeded in providing evidence that by looking at the differing rates of alcohol abuse within the states themselves (and then ‘heavy’ versus ‘binging’, male versus female), state lawmakers and researchers can more effectively communicate to come up with responsible, streamlined ways to manage and reduce—and perhaps one day even eliminate—problem drinking.

What do you think?