Statistics can be misleading, and new research demonstrates that many who consider themselves moderate drinkers may not have an accurate assessment of the damage they’re doing to their bodies.

The research, out of Stanford University School of Medicine and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, digs into the practice of tracking drinking over the course of a week. For many people who only drink alcohol on the weekends, the impact might initially seem insignificant when examined against a seven-day week. Yet, if those drinkers consume enough over that two-day period, they could still be putting their health in jeopardy.

Many of them, according to J. Craig Allen, MD, vice president of addiction services for Hartford HealthCare and medical director of Rushford, could be considered binge drinkers. The bottom line is that someone who drinks six or seven drinks on a Saturday night has a greater risk profile to themselves and others than someone who drinks one glass a day.

“The National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as four drinks for a woman or five for a man in a two-hour period,” Dr. Allen said. “Binge drinking has its own set of risks, including poor judgment, falls and car accidents. It should also be noted that homicide, suicide and poisonings are all associated with alcohol intoxication.”

Interestingly enough, the Stanford researchers found many moderate drinkers who binge drink on the weekends are not college-aged, but instead age 30 and older. The trend is increasing, especially among women and adults over 65.

“For adolescents and young adults, alcohol problems are primarily due to binge drinking, but binge drinking is very common in older adults,” he said.

Binge drinking is dangerous no matter the age, he continued. Older binge drinkers are more likely to have problems with coordination and related falls and accidents, as well as sleep problems and medication interactions.

Yet, younger binge drinkers have greater risk of:

“Emerging research in young adults also suggests that binge drinking is associated with neurocognitive deficits in memory, visuospatial skills and learning, changes that can be long lasting,” Dr. Allen said.

Because of the potential dangers of binge drinking, it’s important to know the risks, and be aware of how much and how fast you are drinking. Healthcare providers can also dig deeper into patients self-reporting on drinking behaviors. What adds up to mild to moderate alcohol consumption on a weekly basis may still represent potentially dangerous episodes of intoxication.

“If drinking alcohol has a negative impact on someone’s functioning whether at home, work or interpersonally, then, by definition, that’s a problem,” he said.