Binge Drinking—Especially by Wealthy—Is Surging in US

Glass of Whiskey
Jonnie Miles | Getty Images
Glass of Whiskey

Binge drinking by Americans is much higher than originally thought—especially among the more affluent households, a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control finds.

About 17 percent of the US population—or 38 million Americas—binge drink at least four times a month, the CDS says. The average number of drinks during each sitting is eight.

That’s way higher than the CDC’s definition of binge drinker, which is five or more alcoholic beverages for a man in one sitting and at least four drinks for a woman.

According to the CDC, binge drinking is more common among those with household incomes exceeding $75,000 a year.

“One possible reason why binge drinking is more common among people with higher incomes is that it is not yet widely recognized as a serious health risk,” said Dr. Robert Brewer, the Leader of the CDC Alcohol Program and a co-author of the report. “If it were, we would expect people with a higher socioeconomic status to be among the first to avoid binge drinking, as is generally the case with other risk behaviors, like smoking and obesity.”

Got that? The doctors figure you are out there getting wasted because you don't know it's bad for you.

We're not so sure about that. We decided to take a shot at another proposal: people with high incomes get drunk because they have hard jobs. (See what we did there? "Take a shot." We're practically wizards at punning.)

So we decided to ask an expert if binge drinking rates are climbing for the finance crowd – especially since working on Wall Street hasn’t exactly been sex on the beach these days.

If they’re not trying to schmooze clients with bottles of wine, they may be drowning their sorrows over their firms’ recent disappointing earnings announcements. Or, maybe they’re at the corner bar trying to self-medicate after getting a donut.

Dr. Harold Selman is a psychiatrist who treats some of the wealthiest New Yorkers. Many of his patients work in finance and law. He said it’s hard to say if people are drinking more alcohol.

“People tend to underreport how much they drink. If they had six drinks, you have to figure they really had ten or 12,” said Dr. Selman.

[Editor's Note: this seems problematic. If you know your doctor is going to assume you drink twice as much as you say, you have to lie to him and claim you drink half as much as you actually do. Honesty is penalized.—JC]

But, he senses there is an increase in overall substance abuse. Dr. Selman said he notices more people using prescription drugs, opiates, stimulants and tranquilizers. Why? Heightened stress levels caused by their jobs and the struggling economy.

“I have people (patients) burning the candle at both ends and they are so stressed out they can’t believe it,” said Dr. Selman. “They are promised bonuses or titles or directorship jobs, et cetera – only to be disappointed when the earnings come in below expectations. They don’t get the raise, they don’t get the bonus, they don’t get anything. And, they have been working 20 hours a day.”

Maybe the government will commission a study next year reflecting alcohol drinking rates among the top one percent in the financial world. Until then, bottoms up.

Stephanie is Squawk Box producer. Follow her on twitter @StephLandsman

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