In 2003, 24 percent of the U.S. adult population (aged 18 years and older) reported binge alcohol use, which is defined as having five or more drinks on the same occasion at least once in the month prior to the survey. The rate of binge alcohol use among males was more than twice that of females (30.9 percent compared to 14.8 percent). Additionally, 3.4 percent of adult women and 10.4 percent of adult men reported heavy alcohol use in the past month.

For many women, alcohol misuse begins in adolescence, though its prevalence rises significantly and peaks in the 18-25 age group. Among these young adult women, 31.8 percent reported binge drinking and 9.0 percent reported heavy drinking in the past month. Among their younger counterparts aged 12-17, 10.1 percent reported binge drinking and 2.3 percent reported heavy alcohol use in the past month. The rates for the 26 and older group are closer to the adolescent group, with 12.6 percent reporting binge drinking and 2.6 percent reporting heavy drinking. The significant gender disparity in alcohol use noted above does not exist for adolescent males and females aged 12-17 years.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy contributes to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), infant low birth weight, and developmental delays in children. Findings from the 2002 and 2003 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health reveal that 4.1 percent of pregnant women aged 15-44 reported binge drinking in the past month. This compares to a rate of binge drinking during the past month of 23.2 percent among non-pregnant women. Among non-pregnant women in this age group, American Indian/Alaska Native women were most likely to binge drink (35.1 percent) compared to other racial and ethnic groups, non-Hispanic White women (26.1 percent) followed. Asian, non-pregnant women were the least likely to report binge drinking (9.1 percent).

Graph: Females Reporting Past Month Binge Alcohol Use by Race/Ethnicity and Pregnancy Status[d]

Graph: Persons Reporting Past Month Binge Alchol Use and Heavy Alcohol Use by Age and Sex[d]