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Research Summary

Heavy Episodic Drinking in Young, Healthy Adults Increases Risk for Cardiovascular Disease

Heavy episodic (binge) drinking is broadly defined as consumption of more than 4 to 5 standard drinks (13 g alcohol/drink) in a two-hour period. Among adults, heavy episodic drinking is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular events. This increased risk may be explained, in part, by alcohol’s role in endothelial dysfunction. Heavy episodic drinking is common among young, healthy adults with more than half of college students who consume alcoholic beverages reporting it. The purpose of this investigation was to determine whether young adults who participate in heavy episodic drinking have macrovascular and microvascular dysfunction and increased risk of cardiovascular disease compared with their nondrinking counterparts. The authors investigated macrovascular changes via brachial artery endothelial dependent flow mediated vasodilation (FMD) and flow independent nitroglycerin-mediated dilation, and microvascular changes via vasoreactivity of resistance arteries (isolated from gluteal fat biopsies) in 18 to 25-year-old nondrinkers (N=17) and those who participate in heavy episodic drinking (N=19).

  • Subjects with heavy episodic drinking reported 6 +/- 1 heavy episodic drinking episodes per month for an average of 4 +/- 0.6 years.
  • FMD was 8% (+/- 0.7) lower and nitroglycerin-mediated dilations were 20% (+/- 2) lower in people with heavy episodic drinking compared with nondrinkers.
  • Two of three measures of vasoreactivity of resistance arteries were no different between the two groups.


This study confirmed that heavy episodic drinking has macrovascular and some microvascular consequences in a sample of young, healthy adults, suggesting an increased risk of cardiovascular events. Given the cross-sectional design and small sample size, these data should be confirmed in future studies. Jeanette M. Tetrault, MD


Goslawski M, Piano MR, Bian JT, et al. Binge Drinking Impairs Vascular Function in Young Adults. J Am Coll Cardiol. April 23, 2013 [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2013.03.049.