Hey, where’d that six-pack go? It’s easier to binge drink than it may seem, using downing four or more drinks in just a few hours as a guideline. And since Americans seem to be knocking back quite a few these days, what is all this booze really doing to our bodies?

Excess Ethanol — The Need-to-Know

It’s not only the young and restless who are getting out of hand. Binge drinking is a problem that affects adults of every age. A recent study analyzing how much and how often American adults were drinking over one year found that one in six adults binge drinks an average of four times per month, with 18 to 24 year olds accounting for those who drink the most in a single night (shocker)Vital signs: binge drinking prevalence, frequency, and intensity among adults – United States, 2010. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 2012 Jan 13;61:14-9.. And while the youngins took back an average of nine (!) drinks when binging, the number of binges per month was highest among those 65 and older. Guess grandma and gramps can still party hard. Before ordering another round, be aware that research suggests excessive drinking can lead to high blood pressure, liver disease, and neurological damage. One study also found that binge drinkers are 14 more times likely to get behind the wheel while under the influence than those who stuck to four drinks or lessBinge drinking among US adults. Naimi, T.S., Brewer, R.D., Mokdad, A., et al. Alcohol Team, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2003 Jan 1;289(1):70-5.. Research also suggestspeople who knock ’em back on the regular (Tipsy Tuesday? Wasted Wednesday? Tequila Thursday?) are more vulnerable to contracting STD’s, becoming victims of rape, or facing injury or death from accidents or alcohol poisoning.

Easy on the Speakeasy — Your Action Plan

Unfortunately, hangovers are the least of our worries. Going overboard at the bar accounts for more than half of the 80,000 annual alcohol-related deaths in the U.S.But why are so many Americans overloading on booze? While the reasons for binging are still unclear, some researchers suggest Americans hit the bottle to take a mental break from their hectic lives. Psychologists note that impulsiveness, low self-esteem, and the need to “fit in” are also motives. And sadly, alcohol is also commonly used to help alleviate anxiety and depression— which may do more harm than goodHow much and how often should we drink? Britton, A. British Medical Journal, 2006 May 27;332(7552):1224-5.. But booze doesn’t have to be the bad guy. Drink in moderation: one glass for ladies and up to two for gents. And while it may be five o’clock anywhere, no need to celebrate happy hour every hour. Pick a night or two during the week to enjoy a favorite cocktail, and stick to green tea (sorry, not this kind) or fun “mocktails” on other evenings. Cheers to that.