Study finds 1 in 8 Americans struggles with alcohol abuse

Faith Castro
August 11, 2017

But high-risk and problem drinking increased far more dramatically.

It found that drinking rates of all groups of Americans increased - and some researchers are calling it a "public health crisis".

The rate of high-risk drinking surged from 10 percent (20 million people) to almost 13 percent (just under 30 million people) over the study's span. High-risk drinking is considered four or more drinks on any day for women, and five or more drinks for men.

The findings come as President Trump said the ongoing opioid crisis is a national public health emergency. High-risk drinking increased by 65.2% and AUD increased by 106.7% among adults ages 65 and older, the study found, while alcohol use overall increased by 22.4% within the group.

The study found the number of American adults with an alcohol dependence increased nearly 50 percent during the period studied. The demographics also included older Americans, minorities and people with lower levels of education and payment. High-risk drinking overall rose by 29.9 percent.

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Though alcohol use reportedly remained stagnant or declined from the 1970s to 1990s, previous studies had reported it increasing in the '90s to early 2000s, and other studies have similarly reflected a narrowing of the gap in alcohol use among women versus men.

And then there's problem drinking. Alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorders among women jumped from under 60 percent in 2002 to over 83 percent in 2013. The study looked at both alcohol abuse, which is drinking to the point where it causes recurrent and significant problems in your life, or alcohol dependence, which is in part the inability to stop drinking. Among black people, it increased by 92.8 percent.

Researchers say for men, binge drinking is having five or more drinks within two hours.

"The results of this study call for a broader effort to address the individual, biological, environmental and societal factors that influence high-risk drinking and [alcohol use disorder] and their considerable consequences and economic costs to society ($250 billion) to improve the health, safety and well-being of the nation", the authors, Bridget F. Grant, S. Patricia Chou and Tulshi D. Saha, wrote in the study. And it's worrying, because older adults at are a high risk of death, injury or disease connected to alcohol use - from falls, for instance, or from adverse interactions between drugs and drinking.

Americans are drinking more than they used to - a lot more. The researchers suggest that growing wealth inequality between whites and minorities may have led to "increased stress and demoralization", while educational, employment, housing and health disparities faced by non-white Americans may also lead to increased coping behaviors.

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