Health Care

Risky drinking is rising rapidly in the US

Risky drinking is rising rapidly in the US

The study defined high-risk drinking as regular consumption of four drinks a day for women or five for men. The numbers reveal "a public health crisis", the authors say.

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.

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. One in eight American adults, or 12.7% of the population, meets diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder, according to the study.

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

The study presents data from two national surveys conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 2001-2002 and 2012-2013.

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).

"Once you get into the more heavy drinking ranges, the probability is you're cutting five to 10 years off people's lives", says Marc Schuckit, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study. High-risk drinking overall rose by 29.9 percent. The increases were especially steep for women, minorities and those over 65 (see graph). Among the poor (earning less than $20,000) it rose by 65.9 percent. Women, for instance, are statistically more likely to take prescription drugs that could have an adverse effect with alcohol, and alcohol use can increase chances of breast cancer, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and other female-centric diseases.

And among older adults, abuse and dependence more than doubled.

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Women showed an 83.7 percent increase in alcohol use disorders in the time frame, and individuals who were 45 years to 64 years, and 65 years and older had 81.5 and 106.7 increases in the disorders respectively.

The authors of the study also said these increases go unnoticed because of other damaging substances.

Indeed, the study's findings are bolstered by the fact that deaths from a number of these conditions, particularly alcohol-related cirrhosis and hypertension, have risen concurrently over the study period.

This study wasn't created to determine why people are drinking more.

These subgroup-specific increases could prove to have particularly deadly effects, the study's authors noted. "If something's cheaper, we buy more", says J├╝rgen Rehm, an epidemiologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

So, what exactly is binge drinking?

"Policymakers and health professionals need to be aware of this, too", she added. The CDC estimates that 88,000 people a year die from alcohol-related causes, more than twice the annual death toll of opiate overdose. The stigma associated with heavy drinking and alcohol use disorder is also an issue, deterring people from getting help.

The number of American adults with an alcohol use disorder (defined as a dependence on alcohol) increased almost 50% during the period studied, researchers found - from about 9% to about 13% of the population.


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