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WNY leads upstate in binge drinking Nearly 22% of adults in survey report indulging within previous month

The Buffalo region has a higher prevalence of binge drinking than any other location in upstate New York -- and it's not just college kids at a keg party.

Nearly 22 percent of all adults in Western New York reported binge drinking at least once within a one-month period, according to a report released Wednesday.

Statewide, the figure is 17.2 percent.

The report was compiled by Univera Healthcare from the latest survey on excessive alcohol use by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report defines binge drinking as a man consuming at least five drinks on one occasion -- a night out, a family picnic, an after-game event.

That means five 12-ounce bottles of beer or five 5-ounce glasses of wine or five 1 1/2 -ounce shots of 80-proof alcohol.

For women, it's four or more drinks.

"People's impressions of binge drinking are college students at a kegger drinking as fast as they can," said Peter Kates, Univera vice president of communications.

But the way binge drinking is defined in the survey may surprise many who consider themselves social drinkers, Kates said.

"Maybe we need to rethink our perceptions about drinking and the level of alcohol consumption," Kates said. "That may be the most important thing to take away from this report."

Those conclusions, however, aren't without caution.

The definition of binge drinking has been a controversial issue, said Jennifer P. Read, an associate professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo.

Researchers in recent years have steered more toward gauging a person's blood-alcohol content rather than just relying on the number of drinks.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, for example, typically defines binge drinking as what happens when men consume five or more drinks in two hours. For women, it's four or more drinks in two hours.

"It really is over what period of time," said Read, whose research has focused on what leads young adults to engage in heavy drinking and substance abuse. "I think that's most important."

Someone easily could have five drinks over the course of an evening and not be drunk, Read said.

"Even still," she said, "that definition is kind of controversial."

Univera typically looks at an important health issue, retrieves reputable data on the topic and pulls together a local report, such as Wednesday's "The Facts About Alcohol Use Among Upstate New York Adults."

The report is based on random telephone surveys of adults 18 and older conducted by the CDC from July 2008 to June 2009 -- the most recent data available. The survey asked adults about their drinking habits during the previous 30 days.

In this state, Western New York's eight counties reported the highest percentage of binge drinking -- 21.9 percent -- while the Finger Lakes region reported the lowest -- 18.1 percent.

The report does not speculate on why binge drinking may be more prevalent in Western New York.

Nearly 30 percent of men in this region reported binge drinking in the month before the survey, compared with 15 percent of women.

That trend -- more binge drinking among men than women -- remained consistent across the state.

The report also looked at "heavy drinking," defined as a man averaging more than two alcoholic drinks a day, or a woman averaging one a day.

Heavy drinking was reported less frequently than binge drinking, ranging from 6.2 percent in the Finger Lakes region to 7.4 percent in Utica, Rome and the North Country.

That figure was 6.6 percent in Western New York and 4.8 percent statewide.

email: jrey@buffnews.com