News: The Courier-Journal, May 15, 2015

Huge increase in Louisvillians getting drunk

Bailey Loosemore, @bloosemore 12:25 p.m. EDT May 15, 2015

It might not seem like a big deal. Having a few drinks with friends on a Friday night — it's just a way to relax.

But as the hours pass and the drinks go down smoother, the night starts to hit iffy territory. It's no longer one of casual consumption, but a night befitting of an undesirable title: binge drinking.

The term is one generally saved for college parties and game-day tailgates, but with alcohol consumers' relaxations methods starting to become routines, a concerning trend has emerged — more people are falling under the definition of binge drinking.

According to a recent analysis of county-level drinking patterns, more people aged 21 and older are drinking more in one sitting than they did a decade ago, leading to rising numbers of people considered heavy or binge drinkers at national, state and local levels.

Nationwide, the study's results showed heavy drinking by men and women combined increased about 17 percent between 2005 and 2012, while binge drinking increased about 6 percent between 2002 and 2012. Increases in Indiana for the same time periods fell along similar lines — with about a 20 percent increase in heavy drinking and about an 8 percent increase in binge drinking. But in Kentucky and Jefferson County, the increases were drastically higher.

Statewide, heavy drinking increased about 61 percent and binge drinking increased about 67 percent in the same time periods. In Jefferson County, heavy drinking increased about 64 percent and binge drinking increased about 55 percent.

One local substance abuse counselor chalks the change up to regional culture — we live in Bourbon Country, after all. But other medical professionals say the increases may hint at other issues: financial woes, additional stress, lack of knowledge on consequences.

"I think as the economy has changed, it's created a more stressful lifestyle for a lot of people," said Morton Center counselor Jon Jasper. "For the younger generation, I just think using is a lot more normalized. With the rise of heroin and drug use, it makes binge drinking look more normal or acceptable."

For the study, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation researchers reviewed data between 2002 and 2012 from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They also used the CDC's definitions for heavy and binge drinking.

According to the organization, heavy drinking is defined as exceeding an average of one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men during the past month. Binge drinking is defined as consuming four drinks or more for women and five drinks or more for men on a single occasion — averaging more than one drink per hour — at least once in the past month.

In Jefferson County, by those definitions, the study found that approximately 19 percent of residents aged 21 and over were considered binge drinkers in 2012 — including about 12 percent of women and 26 percent of men.

Friends Hanh Trieu, 25, and Qi Zhou, 23, however, said their personal definitions of binge drinking differ.

"If that's the standard, everybody I know is a binge drinker," Zhou said, while sipping a drink at The Back Door, 1250 Bardstown Road.

Trieu said four drinks for women in one sitting seems low, more like casual drinking, but she also doesn't generally drink that much herself. Usually, she has between one and three drinks each week, choosing to appreciate the beverages instead of slam them back.

"For me, it's really more about enjoying the conversation, the atmosphere and the drink itself," she said. "I see a lot of heavy drinkers, but I see a lot more of our generation actually appreciating the taste of alcohol now. It's starting to slow down."

Courtney Wallace, director of addiction recovery services for Volunteers for America, said many people don't know the true definitions of heavy or binge drinking, which could lead to them being at risk for developing substance abuse symptoms. To prevent those risks, Wallace said she thinks there should be more education on alcohol at the college level and even in the workplace.

At Our Place in New Albany, executive director MeriBeth Adams-Wolf said she focuses substance abuse education on the 18- to 24-year-old population, to which binge drinking has become more a part of general culture and access often comes from parents or siblings.

"That age group is where (alcoholism) really takes hold," Adams-Wolf said. "We see that with a lot of kids in college, it's the norm. Everybody gets blasted on the weekends. There's always been binge drinking to a certain degree, especially at certain age levels and places. But the amounts of alcohol being consumed are more than they used to be. It used to be 10 beers, now they're doing 20. They're trying to do 21 shots on their 21st birthdays."

Jasper, who provides alcohol education at the Morton Center, said during presentations he focuses on standard drink size, emphasizing that people who mix their own drinks could over pour, past the standard 1.5-ounce shot, and end up drinking more than they anticipated.

For instance, someone filling a typical 16.9-ounce water bottle a quarter of the way with alcohol is actually drinking three and a half standard drinks, Jasper said, using information from the app Shots iGot. The app measures the amount of liquor in a bottle to determine how many standard drinks it is.

"You think you're just having one, but really you've had three to five already," Jasper said.

That pattern can become dangerous when the amount of drinks consumed in one sitting starts to cause mental impairments, such as memory loss — which is more common with drinking a lot at once as opposed to one or two drinks a couple days a week, Jasper said.

"(Alcohol) moves from the front to back of your brain," he said. "When it reaches the back, that's when you experience things like blackouts."

Occasional blackouts might not seem like a huge problem to some people — Trieu says she thinks it's more about the frequency — but drinking excessively in any form can lead to alcoholism if people are genetically predisposed or learn the behavior over time, medical professionals said.

Amanda Newton, director of marketing for Seven Counties and the Jefferson Alcohol and Drug Abuse Center, said people start to run into trouble if they continue to drink despite negative outcomes, such as being charged with driving under the influence or harming personal relationships.

Dr. Bayard Rice, medical director of New Visions at Norton Audubon Hospital, said the patients he speaks with often drink much more than what's stated in the CDC's definitions for heavy and binge drinking — sometimes up to 30 beers a day — but he added that people who think they might be in trouble should consult their primary care physicians to determine healthy drinking levels.

"Anytime that you receive a label for something that you're doing, it's a tell-tale sign that you shouldn't be doing it," Rice said.

Reach reporter Bailey Loosemore at (502) 582-4646. Follow her on Twitter at @bloosemore.


View spreadsheets of alcohol consumption by state and county here:


✓ The rate of any drinkers increased about 1 percent between 2002 and 2012 — from 55.4 percent to 56 percent.

✓ The rate of heavy drinkers increased about 17 percent between 2005 and 2012 — from 7 percent to 8.2 percent.

✓ The rate of binge drinkers increased about 5.8 percent between 2002 and 2012 — from 17.3 percent to 18.3 percent.


✓ The rate of any drinkers increased about 41 percent between 2002 and 2012 — from 30.6 percent to 43.1 percent.

✓ The rate of heavy drinkers increased about 61 percent between 2005 and 2012 — from 4.5 percent to 7.2 percent.

✓ The rate of binge drinkers increased about 67 percent between 2002 and 2012 — from 9 percent to 15.1 percent.


✓ The rate of any drinkers increased less than 1 percent between 2002 and 2012 — from 52 percent to 52.1 percent.

✓ The rate of heavy drinkers increased about 20 percent — from 6.4 percent to 7.6 percent.

✓ The rate of binge drinkers increased about 8 percent — from 16.7 percent to 18 percent.

Jefferson County

✓ The rate of any drinkers increased about 27 percent between 2002 and 2012 — from 42.7 percent to 54.3 percent.

✓ The rate of heavy drinkers increased about 64 percent between 2005 and 2012 — from 5.6 percent to 9.1 percent.

✓ The rate of binge drinkers increased about 55 percent between 2002 and 2012 — from 12 percent to 18.6 percent.

Source: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation


Any drinking: Consumed 1 or more alcoholic beverage in the past month.

Binge drinking: Consumed 4 or more drinks in one sitting (women) or 5 or more drinks in one sitting (men) on at least one occasion in the past month.

Heavy drinking: Consumed, on average, more than 1 drink per day (women) or 2 drinks per day (men) over the course of the past month.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Below is a list of 11 symptoms of substance abuse, according to Seven Counties Services. Checking off 2-3 symptoms indicates mild substance abuse, while 4-5 symptoms indicate moderate abuse and 6 or more symptoms indicate severe abuse.

✓ Taking the substance in larger amounts or for longer than you meant to.

✓ Wanting to cut down or stop using the substance but not managing to.

✓ Spending a lot of time getting, using or recovering from use of the substance.

✓ Cravings and urges to use the substance.

✓ Not managing to do what you should at work, home or school because of substance use.

✓ Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships.

✓ Giving up important social, occupational or recreational activities because of substance use.

✓ Using substances again and again, even when it puts you in danger.

✓ Continuing to use, even when you know you have a physical or psychological problem that could have been caused or made worse by the substance.

✓ Needing more of the substance to get the effect you want (tolerance).

✓ Development of withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by taking more of the substance.