Evidence of the negative consequences of binge drinking keeps mounting up.
Binge drinking is already known to harbor a number of negative health consequences. Despite this, it is surprisingly prevalent.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define binge drinking as the consumption of four drinks or more (for women) and five or more (for men) in the space of 2 hours.
An estimated 1 in 6 American adults binge drink four times a month, consuming an average of eight drinks per session.
The age group most likely to indulge in a binge are the 18-34-year-olds. Also, binge drinking is more common in wealthier households where the income is above $75,000, and men are twice as likely to binge drink than women.
The size and scope of this boozy backdrop makes the associated health aspects all the more worrying.
Health effects of binge drinking
Binge drinking has a wide spectrum of well-documented health consequences. It raises the chances of physical injuries from accidents and fights; it also increases the likelihood of STIs and unintended pregnancy. In the longer term, it can induce liver disease, neurological damage, sexual dysfunction and play a role in worsening diabetes.
New research, headed up by Erin O’Loughlin and published this week in the Journal of Adolescent Health, investigates early changes in another health parameter – hypertension (high blood pressure).
The team found that regular binge drinkers in their 20s had higher blood pressure, increasing their risk of developing hypertension.
The study used data from the Nicotine Dependence in Teens study, a cohort of young smokers derived from diverse social backgrounds in and around Montreal, Canada. In total, 756 individuals, aged 20, had their alcohol consumption rated. Four years later, their drinking levels were measured once again along with their systolic blood pressure.
Blood pressure changes in binge drinkers
Systolic blood pressure is a measure of the pressure in the arteries as the heart muscle contracts. In a healthy individual at rest, this should be below 140 mmHg. A measurement of 140/90 indicates a high blood pressure. The second figure is the measure of blood pressure between beats when the heart is at rest.
According to the study’s authors, they found that “the blood pressure of young adults aged 20-24 who binge drink was 2-4 mmHg higher than non-binge drinkers.”
O’Loughlin says of the results:
“Our findings show that more than 1 in 4 young adults who binge drink meet the criterion for pre-hypertension […] This is worrisome because this condition can progress to hypertension, which, in turn, can cause heart disease and premature death.”
To add an additional level of concern to an already concerning picture, the study found that 85% of the young adults who were drinking heavily at 20 continued this pattern up until the age of 24.