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Binge drinking boosts risk of death, study suggests

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Boston University suggests that older adults who binge drink, even if their overall intake is moderate, will have an increased risk of dying within 20 years, compared to drinkers who do not binge. PHOTO BY EMILY ZABOSKI/DAILY FREE PRESS

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Boston University suggests that older adults who binge drink, even if their overall intake is moderate, will have an increased risk of dying within 20 years, compared to drinkers who do not binge. PHOTO BY EMILY ZABOSKI/DAILY FREE PRESS

Older individuals who participate in binge drinking have an increased risk of mortality as compared to those who drink moderately, according to a study released Monday by researchers from Boston University and the University of Texas at Austin.

Timothy Naimi, an associate professor at BU’s School of Medicine and School of Public Health who coauthored the study, said binge drinking, which he defined as consuming five or more drinks on one occasion for men, and four or more for women, affects individuals of all ages.

“It is very widespread among youth, college students, and even adults,” Naimi said. “About 15 percent of all adults, or about 27 percent of adults who drink alcohol, report binge drinking in the past 30 days.”

Naimi and his team gathered data from a larger project studying patterns of alcohol consumption and drinking problems in adults between the ages of 55 and 65. Out of 1,884 respondents, the researchers utilized data from a population of 446 moderate drinkers, according to a Monday press release.

Researchers tracked these respondents, 72 who binge drank and 372 who drank moderately, over the course of 20 years and found that 61 percent of binge drinkers died in the 20-year period while 37 percent of moderate drinkers did not, the release stated.

Naimi coauthored the study with Charles Holahan, a professor of psychology at UT Austin who specializes in health psychology.

“Binge drinking is increasingly being recognized as a significant public health concern,” Holahan said in the release.

Binge drinking often has negative consequences on individuals’ health and well-being, Naimi said.

“Binge drinking is dangerous and many bad things have happened to drinkers or to others — car accidents, fights, injuries, domestic violence, sexual assaults — on the basis of binge drinking even if it is atypical of how they drink,” Naimi said in the press release.

Binge drinking also largely contributes to the mortality rate in the United States, Naimi said.

“All told, excessive alcohol use causes about 80,000 deaths annually in the US, and many of these deaths are among youth and young and working-age adults,” he said in the release.

Several BU students said they felt binge drinking was an important issue for students.

“It’s a problem more so as people get older and can’t control it,” said Sofia DiStefano, a junior in BU’s Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

DiStefano said many students allow unsafe drinking habits to go unchecked for prolonged periods of time.

“People in college don’t realize they are drinking that much during the week, and this can be dangerous,” she said. “People graduate and still drink heavily because it is a social thing, and it is becoming a real issue affecting people’s health.”

SAR senior Sawyer Deitz said BU students often suffer the consequences of binge drinking.

“Binge drinking is extremely dangerous, as evident just in BU with the amount of hospitalizations and even deaths that have occurred because people are irresponsible when drinking,” he said. “People’s inhibitions are lowered, and they’re not worried about anything except the here and now.”

Lindsey Constantine, a College of General Studies sophomore, said the prevalence of binge drinking at BU could place students in danger.

“There should be more patrol in the Allston area, so people are more safe at Boston University,” she said.

CGS sophomore Mackenzie Copp said certain populations of BU students, such as athletes, typically do not engage in binge drinking.

“Alcohol consumption negatively affects athletic performance,” said Copp, who is on the BU men’s crew team. “When training full time you can’t afford the side effects that drinking has. Dehydration makes training the next day ineffective.”

Dietz said though binge drinking was a serious problem, it is often difficult to force students to avoid the practice.

“Binge drinking is a problem because it’s something that, no matter how hard authorities try to stop it, people will continue to do it,” he said. “It’s ingrained in American culture that more is always better, and this applies to drinking alcohol as well.”

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