Skip directly to searchSkip directly to the site navigationSkip directly to the page's main content


Binge drinking is defined as a pattern of alcohol consumption that brings the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to 0.08% or more (legally intoxicated). This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men in about 2 hours.

Heavy drinking is defined as consuming 8 or more drinks per week for a woman or 15 or more drinks per week for a man.

Excessive alcohol use includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, and any alcohol use by pregnant women or anyone younger than 21 years.

Excessive alcohol use has immediate effects that increase the risk of many harmful health conditions.
  • Injuries, Violence, and Poisonings - Drinking too much alcohol increases the risk of injuries, including motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, and burns. It also increases the risk of violence, including homicide, suicide, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence. Alcohol also contributes to poisonings and overdoses from opioids and other substances.
  • Unintended Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Infections - People who binge drink are more likely to have unprotected sex and multiple sex partners. These activities increase the risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
  • Poor Pregnancy Outcomes - There is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy. Alcohol use during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disordersfor infants. It may also increase the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth, and sudden infant death syndrome.

Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems, including alcohol use disorder and problems with learning, memory, and mental health. Chronic health conditions that have been linked to excessive alcohol use include: high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and cancers of the mouth and throat, larynx (voice box), esophagus, colon and rectum, liver, and breast (in women). The less alcohol a person drinks, the lower the risk of cancer.

Excessive alcohol use is responsible for about 95,000 deaths a year in the United States or 261 deaths per day. These deaths shorten the lives of those who die by an average of almost 29 years, for a total of 2.8 million years of potential life lost. In 2010, excessive alcohol use cost the US economy $249 billion, or $2.05 a drink. Costs due to excessive drinking largely resulted from losses in workplace productivity (72% of the total cost), health care expenses (11%), and other costs due to a combination of criminal justice expenses, motor vehicle crash costs, and property damage. About 40% of these costs were paid by federal, state, and local governments. The estimated cost of excessive alcohol use in Hawai'i was $937.4 million per year or about $1.58 per drink or $689 per capita.

Binge drinking is responsible for over half the deaths and three-quarters of the costs due to excessive alcohol use.

Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States.
  • Excessive drinking is responsible for more than 3,500 deaths among underage youth each year, and cost the U.S. $24 billion in economic costs in 2010.
  • Although the purchase of alcohol by persons under the age of 21 is illegal, people aged 12 to 20 years drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States. More than 90% of this alcohol is consumed in the form of binge drinks.
  • On average, underage drinkers consume more drinks per drinking occasion than adult drinkers.

CDC estimates that 37 million US adults - or 1 in 6 - binge drink about once a week, consuming an average of 7 drinks per binge. As a result, US adults consume about 17 billion binge drinks annually, or about 470 binge drinks per binge drinker. Further, 9 in 10 adults who binge drink do not have an alcohol use disorder.

Binge drinking is the most common, costly and deadly pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States and Hawai'i. One in five Hawai'i adults reports binge drinking in the past 30 days (2017 BRFSS).
  • Young people are more likely to report binge drinking - 1 in 3 adults aged 25-34 and 1 in 4 adults 18-24 or 35-44 binge drank in the past month
  • Men are twice as likely to binge drink as women - 26.1% compared to 12.9%
  • Among high school students, about 12% of boys and girls report binge drinking in the past 30 days (2017 YRBS)

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises that adults who choose to drink should do so in moderation-defined as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. However, the guidelines do not recommend that people start drinking for any reason. They also state that women who are or who may be pregnant should not drink.

There are a variety of methods used to track alcohol use in the population. These include:
  • Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) - World's largest telephone survey that tracks health behaviors, chronic diseases, and preventive health practices among non-institutionalized adults in the United States. It collects data on current drinking; the number of drinking days; average number of drinks per occasion; maximum number of drinks consumed per drinking occasion; and frequency of binge drinking.
  • Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) - Monitors six categories of priority health-risk behaviors among high school youth at the national, state, and local levels. This biennial survey specifically collects data on age at first drink of alcohol, frequency of drinking, frequency of binge drinking, drinking on school property, and drinking associated with other behaviors, such as driving and sexual activity.
  • National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) - Multi-purpose health survey that monitors the health of the non-institutionalized adults and children in the United States. This survey collects information on a broad range of health topics, including current alcohol use and binge drinking among adults.
  • National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) - Collects health and nutrition data through interviews and health examinations of the civilian, non-institutionalized U.S. population. The survey specifically collects information on age of first drink, lifetime alcohol use, current alcohol use, and binge drinking.
  • Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) - Survey collects state-specific, population-based data on maternal attitudes and experiences among women two to six months after having a live birth. This survey collects information on alcohol consumption before, during, and shortly after pregnancy.
  • National Survey on Drug Use and Health - In-home survey that gathers information on mental health and substance abuse, from non-institutionalized persons aged 12 years and older. Collects data on the use of alcohol and illicit drugs, as well as symptoms of substance abuse or dependence.
  • Monitoring the Future Survey - Ongoing and long-term system that collects data on the behaviors, attitudes, and values regarding substance use of American adolescents, college students, and adults. Each year a total of approximately 50,000 students in 8th, 10th, and 12th grade are surveyed about substance use, including alcohol consumption, and a subset are sent follow-up questionnaires through age 45 years.