Alcohol abuse at 'alarming' levels in the US

Henrietta Strickland
August 11, 2017

Researchers aren't exactly sure, but they believe the dramatic rise in drinking rates among women can be attributed to changing perceptions of female alcohol consumption.

"Most important, the findings...highlight the urgency of educating the public, policymakers, and health care professionals about high-risk drinking and [alcohol use disorders], destigmatizing these conditions and encouraging those who can not reduce their alcohol consumption on their seek treatment", the study posits.

Between 2002 and 2013, overall drinking increased by 11 percent. Instead, it was the marked uptick in "high-risk drinking".

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. High-risk drinking overall rose by 29.9 percent. Adults over 65 years in age also saw a pretty big jump - a 65% increase, in fact.

And then there's problem drinking.

The study found the number of American adults with an alcohol dependence increased nearly 50 percent during the period studied.

However, the group that saw the highest increase in alcohol abuse disorders actually wasn't women or minorities.

"[This study] reminds us that the chilling increases in opioid-related deaths reflect a broader issue regarding additional substance-related problems", he wrote. Among black people, it increased by 92.8 percent.

And among older adults, abuse and dependence more than doubled. For instance, excessive drinking cost the country about $250 billion, mostly due to health costs. "Unemployment, residential segregation, discrimination, decreased access to health care, and increased stigma associated with drinking" are all things that could play a role in the shift, according to the study.

As for women, the results show a narrowing of the "gender gap" in drinking disorders, which is consistent with previous research.

There's no single explanation for the increase, but the study says economic stress and the aftermath of the great recession could be contributing factors.

And growing disparities in income, education, employment and housing between whites and minorities may have led the latter to cope with alcohol, researchers suggested.

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