Study finds binge drinking among active military

Binge drinking is common among active-duty military personnel and is strongly associated with many health and social problems, including issues with job performance and alcohol-impaired driving, according to a new study released this past week by the University of Minnesota and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study, "Binge Drinking Among U.S. Active-Duty Military Personnel," appears in the March issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The study analyzed data from 16,037 active-duty military personnel who participated in a 2005 Department of Defense survey of health-related behaviors among the military. Binge drinking – defined as consuming four or more drinks on a single occasion by a woman or five or more drinks on a single occasion by a man – was reported by 43 percent of active-duty personnel during the past month.

About two-thirds of these episodes were reported by active-duty personnel who were 17 to 25 years old at the time of the survey.

The researchers also found that alcohol-related problems were reported by more than half of all active-duty personnel who reported binge drinking. Compared to those who didn’t engage in binge drinking, the binge drinkers were more than six times more likely to report problems with job performance and five times more likely to report driving after having too much to drink.

Although the data were collected almost four years ago, the researchers said the issue of binge drinking among active-duty military personnel has been documented over the past two decades. Because many people tend to underreport binge drinking and the consequences of drinking, the survey estimates might actually be on the conservative side, the researchers said.

They urge more intervention, such as enforcing the minimum-age drinking law across the military and in military communities, to reduce binge drinking among active-duty personnel.

Allergic to penicillin… or not?

Many people who think they’re allergic to penicillin actually are not – and a quick, inexpensive skin test could help sort out who’s truly allergic, save money and cut down on the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics.

These findings, collected from a study of 150 patients at an urban academic ER in 2007, appear in the latest issue of the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

The 150 patients in the study had all reported an allergy to penicillin. But when a skin test was administered, the results were negative for 137, or 91 percent, of the patients.

Penicillin is the drug of choice for many emergency patients because it’s both effective and inexpensive, but it can’t be given to people who say they’re allergic to it, said the study’s author, Dr. Joseph J. Moellman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Cincinnati.

"Until now we have had to rely on the patient for this information. This is the first time anyone has done skin testing for penicillin allergy in the emergency department. It is always preferable to give a patient penicillin instead of a more expensive and potentially complicated drug, but unless we can rule out an allergy to it, that’s not an option."

The study found that the cost difference between penicillin and another antibiotic was approximately $71.

Penicillin skin testing in the emergency room could also help decrease the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics, a practice that is thought to contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance, Dr. Moellman said.

To learn more about allergy to penicillin, check out Mayo or WebMD’s information pages on the topic.