Alcohol abuse at 'alarming' levels in the US

Evrard Martin
Août 11, 2017

Earlier this week, JAMA Psychiatry published a report claiming alcohol dependency and alcohol-related disorders are a "public health crisis" in the United States, after a study suggested high-risk drinking among adults rose nearly 30% over an 11-year period.

Women, older adults, racial minorities and those with lower levels of education and income experienced the greatest increase in drinking rates. But what's even more concerning is that "high-risk drinking" increased by nearly 30%, meaning more people were finding themselves having four or five - or more - drinks per day at least once a week.

The authors defined high-risk drinking as regular consumption of four drinks of alcohol a day for women or five for men.

The study, sponsored by a federal agency for alcohol research, examined how drinking patterns changed between 2002 and 2013, based on in-person surveys of tens of thousands of USA adults.

Previous research showed steady or declining drinking patterns from the 1970s through to the 1990s, when alcohol consumption increased. "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.

Researchers believe stress may be the key cause of the alarming rise in drinking levels. With time this can give rise to major diseases and illnesses that arise out of alcohol misuse.

There's no single explanation for the increase. That is, men are still more likely than women to be problem drinkers, but women are catching up. This could have terrible consequences on the health care of the citizens. They also specify that those factors could be categorized in many different ways, be it through societal pressures, environmental circumstances, or individual situations.

The numbers are even more grim for certain groups. For instance, excessive drinking cost the country about $250 billion, mostly due to health costs.

"We pay for all of it", said Jürgen Rehm, senior director of the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. Both the health and cost implications of this are huge.

Rehm said alcohol doesn't command the attention of policymakers the way tobacco, illicit drugs or prescription opioids have. Yet, there is no national strategy in the US that matches recent, high-profile efforts to combat opioids, smoking, or illegal drugs.

What can be done? In Canada, putting a floor under prices was linked to reductions in alcohol-related hospital visits.

More medical screening also could identify people with risky drinking habits.

Americans tend to consider excess drinking a character flaw rather than a medical problem. Only about one-fifth of people who have reported alcohol abuse or dependency have ever been treated, previous research by Grant found. "We haven't done the job for alcohol that we've done with depression".

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