Americans, especially women and seniors, are drinking more

Henrietta Brewer
August 12, 2017

Overall, alcohol use disorders rose by nearly 50 percent, affecting a projected 8.5 percent of the population during the first research period, and 12.7 percent during the second.

The study data were derived from face-to-face interviews conducted in two nationally representative surveys of USA adults: the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, with data collected from April 2001 to June 2002, and the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions III, with data collected from April 2012 to June 2013. In this study, high-risk drinking was defined as exceeding the daily drinking limits at least weekly during the prior 12 months. Individuals 65 and older saw a staggering 106.7 percent increase in alcohol use disorders from 2002/2003 to 2012/2013.

The findings suggest "a public health crisis", the researchers say, given the fact that high-risk drinking is linked to a number of diseases and psychiatric problems, as well as violence, crime and crashes. What's more, women and seniors are leading the way, according to a recent study on drinking. According to the study, high-risk drinking increased in women by 60%, and only 15% for men. These face-to-face interviews queried adults 18 years and older on their drinking habits in the past 12 months.

Survey respondents were asked about the number of drinks they had per day, how many times they consumed alcohol during the week, and whether or not they had been diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Though the study's authors note that their findings have some limitations - they did not survey anyone from homeless or incarcerated populations, for instance, which could mean they potentially underestimated the overall rates of alcohol use - the study notes that its findings are in line with other similar research.

But high-risk and problem drinking increased far more dramatically. The disorder is determined by such symptoms as alcohol interfering with a person's home or work life, suffering withdrawal symptoms after abstaining from alcohol and being unable to cut down on or stop drinking, among others.

The research team didn't give a reason for the spike in alcoholism, but said the increase came about as it became more socially acceptable for women to drink. 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.

Though the study reflects stark increases among the population overall, the most noticeable rises were in various population subgroups. But a 2013 study found that alcoholic beverages are more affordable in the United States now than at any time since 1950. By 2013, almost three-quarters of American adults said they had consumed alcohol within the past year. The stigma associated with heavy drinking and alcohol use disorder is also an issue, deterring people from getting help. In 2010, excessive drinking cost the United States nearly $250 billion, largely due to health costs. "Clearly, alcohol does not get the necessary attention given the problems it causes", says Rehm.

Among the total population, the study determined that DSM-IV AUD increased from 8.5% to 12.7% between the two surveys - a significant increase of 49.4%.

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.

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