January 5, 2009 - New Yorkers who binge drink tend to have many more sex partners putting themselves at an increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases compared with those who drink less or don't drink at all. According to the Health Department report released today - Alcohol Use and Risky Sex in New York City - teenagers who drink are also more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, including having multiple sex partners. Drinking may also be responsible for more sexual transmission of HIV than drug use because it is much more common, particularly among high-risk men who have sex with men (MSM).
About 15% of adults - some 883,000 - report binge drinking, defined as five or more drinks on one occasion, at least once a month. The new study, based on the Health Department's 2007 Community Health Survey, finds that binge drinkers are 50% more likely than non-binge drinkers - and three times more likely than non-drinkers - to report having two to four sexual partners in the past year. Both drinkers and non-drinkers reported high rates of sex without a condom.
"Heavy drinkers are more likely to have multiple partners - increasing their risk of HIV, other STDs, and unplanned pregnancy," said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, New York City Health Commissioner. "Many New Yorkers recognize that drinking increases the risk of injuries and auto accidents, but they may not recognize these other risks. Reducing the amount that people drink can help prevent HIV and other STDs. With rates of syphilis rising, as well as HIV among young MSM, it is important to look at how drinking may be contributing to the problem."
Drinking and sexual risk-taking among men who have sex with men
Men who have sex with men (MSM) are at particularly high risk of binge drinking and its negative consequences. One in four (24%) MSM say they binge drink, compared to one in seven adults (15%) city-wide. And MSM who binge drink are twice as likely as non-drinking MSM (40% versus 21%) to report having five or more sex partners in the past year.
In addition to the Community Health Survey, the new report draws on local data from the National HIV Behavioral Surveillance project, which is based on interviews with MSM in gay bars and other venues. While not representative of MSM on the whole, the interviews shed additional light on a subset of this population. Within this group, 27% of the men who had casual partners said they were under the influence of alcohol during their last sexual encounter, and 12% were under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Among men who reported having 20 or more sexual partners in the past year, almost half (48%) were under the influence of alcohol the last time they had sex. Drinking also reduced the chances (from 86% to 65%) that a man having receptive anal intercourse - the highest risk act - would be protected by a condom.
Drinking and sexual risk-taking among teens
Most New York City teens (65%) do not drink, but 14% say they binge drank in the past month. Teens who reported drinking any amount of alcohol in the past month were more than twice as likely as non-drinkers (27% versus 11%) to report having multiple sex partners. The report also suggests that condom use was less common (63%) among teens who reported using alcohol or drugs before sex than among those who were sober (72%).
Teens who drink are nearly twice as likely to report causing a pregnancy (9% versus 4%). Boys who report having sex under the influence of drugs or alcohol were three times as likely to report ever getting a girl pregnant (34% versus 10%).
Need help with a drinking problem?
To minimize health risks, men should not have more than two drinks per day and women should not have more than one. New Yorkers who feel they may have a drinking problem or need help to stop abusing alcohol can call 311 and ask for LifeNet, or call 800-LIFENET (800-543-3638). Free NYC condoms are also available at locations throughout the city. Call 311 or visit www.nyc.gov/condoms for more information.
Interventions that have been shown to reduce the health risks associated with harmful drinking include:
- Maintaining the minimum drinking age of 21.
- Increasing enforcement of laws prohibiting sales of alcohol to youth.
- Increasing taxes on alcohol, which have been diluted by inflation over the past 50 years.
About the Data
The new report draws data on drinking behavior from the New York City Community Health Survey, a yearly telephone survey of approximately 10,000 New York City adults (18 years or older). Data on teenagers are from the New York City Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), a self-administered, anonymous questionnaire conducted in New York City public high schools every other year. Data on high-risk MSM in gay venues is from the National HIV Behavioral Surveillance project, which was conducted in 2004 and 2005. Alcohol Use and Risky Sex in New York City is available online here (pdf).