A country's binge drinking rate reveals a great deal about the surrounding culture. Comparing patterns of alcohol consumption between the United States and the majority of European countries, for example, reveals an interesting trend. In the U.S., the nation with one of the highest binge drinking rates worldwide, people tend to abuse alcohol. In Europe, by contrast, more people enjoy drinking alcohol without binge drinking because leisurely drinking is an important part of social interaction.
Binge drinking can be an ambiguous term, so most social scientists define it quantitatively; The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a "pattern of alcohol consumption that brings the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to 0.08% or more." Binge drinking for females is defined by consuming four or more drinks within two hours, and for males, five or more drinks within the same time frame.
American drinking culture, particularly among teens, is defined by binge drinking or heavy, excessive alcohol consumption. In fact, the rate of binge drinking in the U.S. is the highest in the world. Despite the U.S. drinking age, binge drinking is the biggest problem for people under the age of 21.
"About 50% of all the alcohol consumed by adults, and about 90% of all the alcohol consumed by young people is consumed during a binge drinking session," said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Center for Disease Control. According to CNN, the American demographic that binge drinks the most is actually women aged 18-34 and high school girls. The rate of female binge drinking in the U.S. exceeds that of any other developed country, according to Daily Mail.
One in five high school girls binge drink, a statistic that should be taken into consideration to explain the estimated 23,000 annual death rate among females, attributed to excessive alcohol consumption.
Binge drinking is intricately connected to American culture. Especially on college campuses, students often feel that they must be inebriated in order to socialize and have a good time.
The extent of college binge drinking may be exacerbated by the restrictive legal drinking age of 21. According to the New York Times, the fact that laws make it illegal for most college students to drink, they "inadvertently made it more likely that students would engage in clandestine — and difficult to supervise — binge drinking."
College students often partake in pregaming, drinking before an event. People under the age of 21 often pregame excessively in order to get drunk because they cannot buy alcohol once they are in public.
Binge drinking rates also vary by state, with the highest rates hailing from Northern states. Interestingly, Washington, D.C., has the most excessive drinking; the average D.C. resident consumes six drinks in a short period of time, according to the Washingtonian.
European binge drinking levels reveal a different trend. In general, Europeans consume more alcohol than people on other continents, but they do not tend to drink excessively. France, Italy, the Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark and Finland join England and Ireland among the nations that consume alcohol most frequently.
Drinking in moderation is important part of European culture and social interaction. In many European countries, it is legal for teenagers older than 16 to enjoy alcohol in the privacy of their homes. In fact, until recently, binge drinking as a concept was overwhelmingly absent from most European cultures. For example, the French just recently introduced the term "fast drinking" or "le binge drinking" into their nation's vocabulary.
Britain is an outlier to the general European trend. According to the Telegraph, "Britain is the binge-drinking capitol of Europe." Britain's drinking patterns are interesting because drinkers consume alcohol less regularly than those in other European states. When they do drink, however, they drink the most at a single sitting. In fact, 12% of Brits reported they have consumed up to ten drinks in a single night.
Ireland is another European nation that has a higher binge drinking rate than the norm, more similar to that of the United States. One in four Irish adults surpassed the binge drinking threshold within the past month, which is double the European average. In addition, 29% of Irish girls aged 13 to 15 reported binge drinking at least once in the last 30 days.
Australia also has a drinking culture that is similar to that of the U.S. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 37% of all citizens over the age of 15 reported binge drinking within two weeks of their response. Broken down further, 46% of men reported drinking at high-risk levels compared to 28% of women. Males were consistently drinking more than females in all age-groups. All Australian territories have lowered the drinking age from 21 since 1974 and now the legal drinking age is 18 throughout the country.
The Australian government has not been mute to the issue and has actively attempted to "separate binge drinking from the intangible social forces it is attached to in [their] society and culture." In 2009, the prime minister announced a $53.5 million national initiative to counter binge drinking among young people.
Thailand is another country where many people partake in excessive drinking patterns. The World Health Organization determined that Thailand ranks fifth in the world for the most consumption of alcohol, but excessive, high-risk drinking is a major cause of death and accidents in the country. To counter the problem, the government cracked down on alcohol availability and raised the legal drinking age from 18 to 20 in 2008.
The reality is that alcohol consumption is ingrained in a nation's overarching culture. In the United States in particular, until we can reverse the cultural conceptions surrounding drinking, it will be difficult to curb the excessive drinking habits that we are witnessing today, especially among America's youth. In this respect, American drinking culture would benefit from looking toward the European model where alcohol is a substance to be enjoyed in moderation rather than abused in excess.