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Many "Binge" Drinkers are Sober

A study of estimated blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of so-called binge drinkers using a survey of 500 young adults age 18-24 revealed that 63% of the "bingers" did not reach a BAC of .10% or higher and 48% did not reach a BAC of .08% or higher.

The definition of "binge drinking" used was the controversial one promoted by Henry Wechsler. That is, four or more drinks in a row for a woman and five or more for men consititues a "binge."

These findings are highly significant. As the investigators explain,

Research has firmly established that U.S. teens and young adults have a greatly exaggerated view of how many of their peers engage in heavy drinking. This misperception exists as a false norm that produces greater pressure toward high-risk drinking than when the norm is accurately perceived. Use of the term "binge drinking," meaniong 5/4+ drinks in a row, is likely to fed this misperception. For example, using the gender-specific definition, the 1999 Harvard survey found that 44% of students at U.S. 4-year colleges could be classified as "binge drinkers." Given the connotations of the term binge drinking, these findings could be easily misconstrued to reinforce the misperception that nearly half of college students drink to the point of intoxication. An alternative focus on alcohol impairment or intoxication levels would make clearer that the vast majority of young adults, including college students, either abstain or consume alcohol in a manner that avoids high-risk BAC levels.

This study provides concrete evidence that Henry Wechsler's idiosyncratic definition of binge drinking is even more deceptive than originally thought. And, of cours, this misperception contributes to the problem of heavy drinking.

With this knowledge, the inappropriate use of "binge" to refer to 4/5+ drinks per occasion clearly becomes unethical, unprofessional and completely inexcusable.


  • Perkins, H.W., et al. Estimated blood alcohol levels reached by "binge" and "nonbinge" drinkers. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 2001, 15 (4), 317-320, p. 319.