January is a month when many are cutting back on drinking after an alcohol-infused holiday season.
A new report suggests many may want to cut back throughout the rest of the year as well.
Nearly one in five, or about 17 per cent, of the U.S. population engaged in binge drinking four or more times a month in 2010, according to a major report from that country's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On average, the largest number of drinks consumed in a binge drinking session is eight.
The problem of binge drinking is much bigger than previously thought and a major cause for alarm, according to health officials. It's a leading cause of preventable death and can lead to a host of serious health issues.
"Binge drinking causes a wide range of health, social and economic problems and this report confirms the problem is really widespread," Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, said in a news release. "We need to work together to implement proven measures to reduce binge drinking at national, state and community levels."
Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks for women and five or more for men in a relatively short period of time.
But the problem isn't only confined to younger people. The report found that while it's more widespread among those between ages 18 and 34, binge drinkers age 65 and older do it more often -- about five or six times a month, the report said.
Binge drinking is also more common in households with incomes of $75,000 (USD) or more, but the number of drinks consumed during binge drinking sessions is higher (up to nine) in households with incomes of less than $25,000 (USD).
The report comes amid growing concern about the problem of binge drinking in Canada, Britain and elsewhere around the world. Last year, the Canadian Medical Association Journal published an editorial calling attention to the huge problem of binge drinking and the health implications.
A range of issues are suspected to play a role in the growing prevalence of binge drinking, such as alcohol pricing, availability and advertising, and shifts in attitudes that makes excessive alcohol consumption more acceptable.
That's an alarming thought, as the actions of today likely predict what will happen on future young people, experts say.
"Binge drinking by adults as a huge public health impact, and influences the drinking behaviour of underage youth by the example it sets," said Pamela Hyde, substance abuse and mental health services administrator, in the CDC news release. "We need to reduce binge drinking by adults to prevent the immediate and long-term effects it has on the health of adults and youth."