The number of people engaged in heavy drinking and in binge drinking in the United States has significantly increased in the past decade. The rates of increase are also continually rising faster among women than among men, according to a new study conducted by the University of Washington.

Researchers from the university's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) discovered that between the years 2005 and 2012, heavy drinking in the country increased by 17.2 percent.

Heavy drinking, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is going beyond an average of one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men over the past month.

Binge drinking, on the other hand, is defined by the CDC as consuming alcohol amounting to five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women in two hours. The rate for binge drinking in the country has risen by 8.9 percent since 2005.

According to the IHME study, 8.2 percent of all Americans engaged in heavy drinking and 18.3 percent were into binge drinking in 2012.

The lowest rates of binge drinking in the country were recorded in Madison County, Idaho with 5.9 percent, while Menominee, Wisconsin had the highest rates with 36 percent of its residents.

Hancock County, Tennessee registered the lowest rates of heavy drinkers with 2.4 percent of its population, while the county with the highest number of heavy drinkers was Esmeralda County, Nevada with 22.4 percent.

The number of women in America involved in binge drinking rose by 17.5 percent compared to the 4.9 percent increase among men from 2005 to 2012,

"We are seeing some very alarming trends in alcohol overconsumption, especially among women," Dr. Ali Mokdad, professor at IHME and head of the study, said.

"We also can't ignore the fact that in many U.S. counties a quarter of the people, or more, are binge drinkers."

The results of the study provide a stark contrast to the alcohol-drinking trends in the country, which showed that 56 percent of Americans consumed any alcoholic drink, from 2005 to 2012, and has since remained largely unchanged.

The IHME researchers also noted that some regions in the United States, particularly New England, the West and Midwest, showed higher rates of people consuming alcohol. The most alarming rates of alcohol use, however, still remained in areas within the states themselves.

The overall rates of binge drinking in Texas in 2012, for example, ranged from the 10.8 percent in Collingsworth County, which is considered well below the 18.3 percent national average, to the 35.5 percent recorded in Loving County, which was almost double the national average.

The IHME created a health map detailing the counties in the United States where policies and programs for alcohol use are more focused locally.

Dr. Christopher Murray, director of IHME, explained that state-level results in the country do not always reveal the full extent of what affected people experience regarding their health.

"When you can map out what's happening county by county, over time, and for men and women separately, that's also when you can really pinpoint specific health needs and challenges—and then tailor health policies and programs accordingly," Murray said.

The study also pointed to the ill effects of binge drinking and heavy drinking on the human body.

Binge drinking is most often connected with an increased risk of inflicting serious internal injuries such as alcohol poisoning and acute organ damage.

Heavy drinking is known to cause long-term damage to the body such as heart disease and liver cirrhosis.

The University of Washington study is published in the American Journal of Public Health.

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