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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - More than 10 percent of U.S. adults who binge-drink admits to getting behind the wheel after doing so, a government study finds.
Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that among more than 14,000 Americans who reported binge-drinking, 12 percent said they drove within two hours of their most recent binge.
In more than half of those cases, the driver had been drinking at a bar, club or restaurant.
Both binge-drinking and drunk driving are well-known public health problems in the U.S., with Americans going on 1.5 billion drinking binges a year. A binge is defined as downing five or more drinks on a single occasion.
What had been unclear was how often people got behind the wheel after a binge, lead researcher Dr. Timothy Naimi, an epidemiologist with the CDC's alcohol program, told Reuters Health.
Calling his team's findings "disappointing," Naimi said that they also "shine a bright light on the shared responsibility" of individuals, government and the establishments that sell alcohol in preventing drunk driving.
"Of course individual responsibility is important," Naimi said, "but that's all anybody talks about."
He noted that there are laws in almost every state that bar establishments from selling alcohol to anyone who is drunk. "But," he said, "those are some of the most widely flouted and disregarded laws we have."
Most establishments licensed to sell alcohol are monitored infrequently, according to Naimi, and the penalties for serving intoxicated patrons may be weak.
Some states, but not all, have "dram shop laws" that make it possible for establishments to be held financially liable for any harm caused by a patron who was served alcohol despite being visibly drunk.
Given how often bingeing-and-driving incidents originate at these establishments, efforts to prevent drunk driving "should focus on enforcing responsible beverage service," the CDC researchers conclude.
"Government and establishments," Naimi said, "need to create environments that help people make good decisions."
SOURCE: American Journal of Preventive Medicine, online September 1, 2009.