The number of American drinkers isn t growing, but the number of heavy and binge drinkers is.

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Relax with WineExcessive alcohol consumption has long been considered a major health problem in our society, especially amongst the young. We here at ACSH have spoken many times before about the detrimental effects it has on the body, including liver, brain and heart, as well as the destructive decisions it can lead to, such as driving while impaired. Now a new study published yesterday by the American Journal of Public Health sheds some light on our progress in curtailing this epidemic, unfortunately the news is not great.

The researchers, working at the University of Washington s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, found that although the nation s overall drinking rate, about 56 percent, remains flat, heavy (more than 1 glass daily for women, two glasses daily for men) and binge drinking (one occasion of four or more drinks for women, 5 or more for men) are on the rise in America. According to the data, the most prominent reason for this increase is sharp increases in heavy and binge drinking among women. The study, which is composed of data compiled from 2002-2012, found that nationwide as of 2012, 18.3 percent of people were characterized as binge drinkers a number that has risen almost 9 percent since 2005. During this rise, the rate of binge drinking among women has risen over 17 percent, compared to fewer than 5 percent among men.

One of the unique aspects of this study is that it is the first one to catalogue the drinking rates in America by county. The regional data shows that the highest binge and heavy drinking rates occur in the Northeast and the northern states of the Midwest. In particular Wisconsin boasts many counties with binge drinking rates well above the national average. Menominee County, which also happens to be the smallest county in Wisconsin with just over 4 thousand people, binge drinks at a rate that is twice the national average. In contrast, Utah has the lowest rate of binge drinking of any state at just over 11 percent, but is even lower in several counties.

According to public health officials, one of the great advantages that regionalized data on drinking behavoir can offer is that alcohol education initiatives and policy can be geographically tailored for each state. Texas, a state with a slightly below average binge drinking rate has most of its elevated binge drinking counties along its southern border. Officials can now use this data to argue for more funding and resources to implement policies geared to this region.

ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava weighed in on the data saying: This is an important step forward in dealing with our nation s unhealthy relationship with alcohol.