Image: Tiffany Kamykowski serving beer
Charles Rex Arbogast  /  AP
Bartender Tiffany Kamykowski serves up some beer. Two new studies by the CDC have found that adults bingers prefer beer, while teen drinkers prefer hard liquor.
updated 8/7/2007 12:04:25 AM ET 2007-08-07T04:04:25

Binge drinkers are more likely to have a beer can in hand than a shot glass, new research shows.

Unless you’re talking about teens. They prefer the hard stuff.

The stereotype-shattering findings are reported in two studies by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Access may play a major role in the choices of the two age groups, experts suggested.

For adults, beer is cheaper and easy to find, sold in gas stations and grocery stores. However, for teens, it may be easier to filch free booze from their parents’ liquor cupboards, one of the researchers said.

Binge drinking — no matter which type of alcohol — is bad for your health. Excessive alcohol is acutely dangerous because of its role in car crashes, violence and other traumatic injury, and is blamed for 75,000 deaths annually.

An overwhelming favorite
The study of adult binge drinkers found that nearly 75 percent mainly or exclusively drank beer, 17 percent focused on liquor and 9 percent were wine drinkers. A binge drinker was defined as someone who had five or more alcoholic drinks on at least one occasion in the last 30 days.

About 15 percent of U.S. adults fit that profile, and most are men, according to federal statistics.

“This is behavior that is common,” said the CDC’s Dr. Timothy Naimi, lead author of a study of 14,000 adult binge drinkers. “It boils down to drinking to get drunk.”

Researchers also looked at bingers who drank a variety of beverages — for example, a few after-work beers, a cocktail before dinner and wine with dinner. That research showed beer accounted for 67 percent of binge drinks consumed, liquor for 22 percent and wine for 11 percent.

Beer was expected to be high on the list: It accounts for about 55 percent of the alcohol sold in the United States, as measured by the gallon, according to sales tax statistics.

But the fact that beer is such an overwhelming favorite of binge drinkers contradicts a Hollywood stereotype of hard drinkers clutching a bottle instead of a six-pack.

That perception may help explain why beer is No. 1, Naimi said. Because of a governmental focus on the dangers of liquor, beer is generally less expensive and easier to get.

The volume of beer advertising on television is also a factor, said Gail DiSabatino, vice president for student affairs at Clemson University.

“If you watch a commercial during any NCAA championship, or the big sporting events, beer is promoted heavily,” she said.

‘Liquor’s quicker’
In a separate study, a different team of researchers looked at 2005 survey data for public high-school students in Arkansas, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming. The survey was anonymous. Results were based on about 4,000 responses.

The pilot study found that liquor was the most commonly consumed alcoholic beverage among teens who reported binge drinking. In Arkansas, liquor accounted for 49 percent of binge drinks, with beer, malt beverages, wine and wine coolers making up the rest. The hard stuff also was clearly ahead in Wyoming and New Mexico. In Nebraska, liquor and beer consumption were virtually tied.

Because the study was smaller and more geographically limited, it’s difficult to equate it with the national study of adults, DiSabatino observed.

Asked why high-school binge drinkers might prefer liquor, DiSabatino noted studies that show many youths get their alcohol from home.

It may be easier to snatch drinks from a liquor cabinet than beers from the fridge. “It might not be as noticed,” DiSabatino said.

There are other motivations for teens, said Jennifer Cremeens, a former CDC epidemiologist who co-authored the high-school study.

Liquor can be easier to conceal from parents, mixed in a cup with juice or soda. It’s also more potent. “Liquor’s quicker,” Cremeens said.

The study of adult bingers was published for release Tuesday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, and was based on data from a national random-digit-dial survey done in 2003 and 2004.

The study of teen drinkers was published recently in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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