NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Government Manufactures a "Binge Drinking" Crisis

January 7, 2003

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have discovered an upturn in what they call "binge drinking" -- defined as having five or more alcoholic drinks on one occasion. Binge-drinking episodes per person per year supposedly increased 17 percent between 1993 and 2001, according to the CDC.

Trouble is, critics familiar with the scientific process are taking issue with the telephone survey used to develop the CDC's conclusions. The critics say it employed a dubious methodology and is seriously flawed.

  • None of the data collected in the survey -- which asked people about their alcohol consumption habits -- can be verified, and respondents may have overestimated, underestimated or simply lied about their drinking history to avoid embarrassment or to be mischievous.
  • The interviewers have no way, and didn't even try, to confirm whether the respondents were being accurate or telling the truth.
  • Moreover, the all-important word "drink" is not defined -- even though a "drink" means different things to different people.
  • Thus, drinking five glasses of a weak punch over an evening would be considered a "binge," while consuming three double scotches during happy hour would not.

The CDC researchers are offering policy recommendations to curb binge drinking, including more laws and regulations, increased alcohol taxes and -- perhaps most appalling -- screening all adults and adolescents for alcohol abuse.

Source: Steven Milloy (Cato Institute), "Federal 'Nannies' on Binge," Washington Times, January 7, 2003.


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