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Is it enough to know the daily or monthly intake of alcohol of somebody to know if there may be any hazard associated with this? Is binge drinking more dangerous than a regular consumption of alcohol?

Student behavior

Four studies (in 1993, 1997, 1999 and 2001) were carried in 120 American universities involving more than 15 000 students. Students answered anonymous surveys where they were asked how many times in the past two weeks they drank more than 5 drinks (4 for women) in a row (this was used as a definition for "binge drinking".) Drinks were defined as 12 oz (350 mL) of beer or 4 oz (120 mL) of wine. What "in a row" corresponds to was not specified.

44 % of students were "binge drinkers" (40 % of women and 50 % of men) including 22 % frequent binge drinkers (3 times or more in the past two weeks.) An interesting side result is that this phenomenon is more acute amongst the younger students: 43,6 % of students less than 21, 50,2 % of those between 21 and 23 but only 30,9 % of students older than 24. This trend shows that the legal age (21-year old) is of little importance; maturity seems to be the important factor reducing binge drinking. 30 % of students drinking alcohol (those who do not drink at all are not included here) were drunk at least three times in the past month and half of the drinkers says that getting drunk is a major motivation for drinking. Amongst the consequences, 10 % said that they had unprotected intercourses et almost 30 % drove while intoxicated.

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Consumption patterns and hypertension

In Northern Ireland, heart attacks are more frequent on Monday than on any other day. The authors try to find out if this can be due to the intake of alcohol during the week-end. They compared the consumption of alcohol and the blood pressure of French and Northern Irish.

6523 men from 50 to 59 in age in Belfast, Strasbourg, Lille et Toulouse were involved (5156 in France, 1367 in Ireland.) In France, intake of alcohol is fairly constant across the week (it increases only slightly during the week-end.) In Northern Ireland, people drink mostly on Friday and Saturday nights (these two days make up two thirds of the total consumption.) The study shows that blood pressure is higher for Irish drinkers at the beginning of the week whereas in France it does not change significantly over the week. Blood pressure of non-drinkers is constant in both countries, so the peak on Mondays can be due to hard drinking during thye week-end. The authors therefore conclude that there is a link between blood pressure and alcohol intake during the previous days. This is in agreement with other studies [Wannamethee G. and Shaper A.G. Journal of human hypertension 5, 59 (1991) and Rakic V. et al.: Journal of hypertension 16, 277 (1998)]

It can be remarked that the average consumption in Northern Ireland was slightly higher than in France but this does not seem to be a major effect. A high consumption of alcohol can also be associated with a high consumption of tobacco but this factor could not be taken into account in this study. Age, weight, education, heart frequency do not seem to change the results. The authors noticed that there is a stronger correlation between alcohol intake and blood pressure for beer drinkers than for wine drinker but cannot provide an explanation.

References: Marques-Vidal P., Arveiler D, Evans A, Amouyel P, Ferrières J et Ducimetière P. : "Different alcohol drinking and blood pressure relationships in France and Northern Ireland", Hypertension 38, 1361-1366 (2001)

Who drinks what and how?

I did not manage to find anything about this.

Statisticians seem to be idiot savants. They carry a survey, get a lot of data and tell you that it is more than 95 % likely that [blah blah]. They do not seem to care why. So many people drink so many drinks a week. Who? What? How? Do they drink alone, "The Karamazov brothers" in one hand and a glass of mead in the other hand? Do they drink cheap beer at frat parties? Do they drink wine with their meals? None of the above, they just drink so many drinks a week. I would like to know more than numbers, I would like to get some qualitative analysis. Sociology or drinking maybe. But I do not manage to find anything. Are numbers so much more interesting? If you know something or know where to look for, please e-mail me.

Country by country

Irish drink 11.6 liters of pure alcohol per year, a little more than French and Germans (10.7 and 10.6 liters.) In Switzerland it is 9.2 liters/year. Belgians and Britons drinks almost the same amount (8.2 and 8.1) The lowest figures in Europe come from the North: Sweden 4.9, Norway 4.4 and Iceland 4.

Reference: Commissie Gesditilleerd: "Productschap voor Gedistillerde Dranken" (published in 2000, figures are for 1999)

Behavioral and physiological effects of binge-drinking

A reasearch group from the University of North Carolina studied the effect on rats of the intake of large quantities of alcohol (similar to binge-drinking.) It is well known that binge-drinking over long times is bad but little was known about short-term heavy drinking. The two studies are based on the injection of large doses of alcohol to rats for four days. Two kinds of studies were then carried: behavioral and physiological.

The behavioral study takes place in Morris' maze: rats are put in a swallow swimmingpool where there is a slighly immerged platform which they cannot see. Trial after trial, the rat learns where the platform lies. Drunk rats behaved at least as well as the control population, they learnt even slightly faster. Then the platform is moved, the rat spontaneously goes where the platform used to be, figures out that it moved and tries somewhere else. Rats who received ethanol spent a lot of time looking for the platform where it obviously no longer was whereas control rats, finding out that the situation was changed, tried their luck somewhere else. This experiment took place a week after the binge-drinking. These results are similar to those for human beings after much longer times: cognitive dysfunctionning, perception and psychomotricity trouble.

In the other part of the study, the rat population was split up into four groups: control, two days of alcohol consumption, four days of alcohol consumption and four days of alcohol consumption followed by three days of rest. Rats where disected and various analyses were carried on each population. The study shows that after two days of alcohol injection, significant argyrophylia is visible in the olfactive bulb. After four days, significant argyrophylias appeared in perirhinal, entorhinal, piriform and insular agranular cortex. After three days of rest, results cannot be distinguished from control rats. This is likely due to the fact that dead cells were destroyed (and thus are not visible anymore), not to their regeneration. The authors conclude that binge-drinking for a few days is enough to lead to nuclear pyknosis, fragmentation of chromatine and death of brain cells by necrosis, irreversibly, there is also a breaking of the DNA into small fragments.

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March 8th 2003