A New Measure of Binge Drinking: Prevalence and Correlates in a Probability Sample of Undergraduates


  • This work was supported by a research grant DA 018239 (PI: SEM) from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and a research grant AA 015275 (PI: SEM) from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health.

Reprint requests: James A. Cranford, PhD, Substance Abuse Research Center, University of Michigan, 2025 Traverwood Drive, Suite C, Ann Arbor, MI 48105-2194; Fax: 734-998-6508; E-mail: jcranfor@umich.edu


Background: A standard measure defines binge drinking as the consumption of 5 or more drinks in a row for men (4 or more drinks for women) on at least 1 occasion during the past 2 weeks. A revised operational definition of binge drinking was developed by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 2004 and incorporated the duration of the drinking episode in addition to the quantity of alcohol consumed. This study compares the standard and new binge measures for overall and subgroup prevalence rates; associations with gender, race/ethnicity, and age of drinking onset; and associations with negative drinking consequences.

Methods: A probability sample of 4,580 randomly selected college students (50.3% female, M age=19.9, SD=2.0) at a large Midwestern university in the United States completed a Web-based survey of alcohol and other drug use. Participants reported on past 2-week binge drinking using the standard measure and past-year binge drinking using the new measure.

Results: The longer past-year time frame of the new measure yielded a higher prevalence estimate of binge drinking (63.6%) compared with the 2-week standard measure (53.2%). Approximately 9.9% of those who were classified as binge drinkers using the 2-week standard measure were classified as non–binge drinkers using the new measure specification of a 2-hour duration for the drinking episode. The past-year new binge measure was positively associated with negative drinking consequences even when the 2-week measure was statistically controlled.

Conclusions: Using a longer time frame and incorporating the duration of the drinking episode, the new measure of binge drinking appears to capture an important element of risky alcohol involvement in college students that is not fully assessed by the standard measure.