“To me, it’s as dangerous as illicit drug use,” said Letizia Charleston, clinical director of Pathways, MI. “It’s a very dangerous road to go down.”
While both men and women binge drink, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say it’s more of an unreported problem for women. The agency says 14 million women binge drink about three times a month, consuming an average of six drinks per binge.
Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks within a two- or three-hour span for women and five or more drinks for men.
Reports released recently highlight the problem locally.
In Ottawa County, about 20.3 percent of residents engage in the activity, based on the county Health Department's 2012 Community Assessment Behavioral Risk Factor Survey.
Muskegon County's Adult Behavior Risk Factor Survey for 2008-10 reveals 20.7 percent of that county's residents binge drink.
By comparison, the number of Michigan residents who binge drink is 15 percent. It's about the same proportion for the nation.
The CDC reported that 1 in 8 women age 18 and older and 1 in 5 high school girls binge drink.
The 2011 Ottawa County Youth Assessment and Behavioral Risk Factor Survey revealed that 1 in 7 girls in grades 8, 10 and 12, and 1 in 7 women age 18 and older drank enough alcohol at one time in the past month to be considered "binge." One in 10 binge drank three or more times.
Charleston said residents could binge drink for a variety of reasons, including not knowing their limitations.
Among some of the potential health problems from binge drinking are damage to the esophagus, heart problems, diabetes, alcohol poisoning and brain damage.
Leigh Moerdyke — the children, youth and families program director of Pathways, MI — said some consequences from binge drinking impacts a young person's brain in developing skills such as logic and reasoning.
“Any alcohol use in the more vulnerable time is a risk, in many ways,” said Marcia Knol, epidemiologist for the Ottawa County Health Department.
For adults, another impact from binge drinking is an inability to perform well at work, Charleston said.
Although binge drinking might not lead to immediate alcohol dependency, it could down the road, experts say. Fortunately, prevention and treatment options are available throughout the community.
Local prevention efforts include working with schools and educating students about the dangers of drinking and the importance of staying sober. Moerdyke said Pathways, MI programs help students develop leadership skills and encourage their peers to make good decisions.
“If we can prevent that, we can help our community members not have those consequences,” she said.
For those struggling with addiction, Charleston encourages them to find support, whether it’s getting into a treatment center or seeing a professional.
“There’s too much at stake,” she said.