Episodes of binge drinking, defined as having five or more drinks in a sitting, increased 17 percent among all adults between 1993 and 2001, and shot up 56 percent among 18- to 20-year-olds, the telephone survey found.
The survey was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The findings were published in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.
Adults age 21 to 25 went on drinking binges an average of 18 times in 2001, according to CDC. Those ages 18 to 20 did so an average of 15 times. The drinking age in the United States is 21.
Binge drinking among all adults in 2001 increased to 1.5 billion episodes, or an average of more than seven times per person. That is up from about 1.2 billion episodes, or about six times per person, in 1993.
The average number of episodes for other age groups in 2001: nine for those ages 26 to 34; almost seven for 35- to 54-year-olds; and almost three for those 55 and older.
Men had 12.5 episodes in 2001 compared with 2.7 for women. Hispanics had 8.4 episodes, while whites had 7.4 and blacks 5.4.
Researchers think their study still may underestimate the scope of binge drinking.
Psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Angres, who heads an alcohol and drug dependency program in Chicago, said popular culture promotes binge drinking.
"We have, really, a public health problem that is in some ways becoming epidemic in proportion," Angres said.
CDC researchers analyzed results for every other year between 1993 and 2001. The number of participants ranged from 102,263 in 1993 to 212,510 in 2001.
By Deanna Bellandi