Americans, Especially Women, Are Drinking Alcohol More Frequently Now

High-risk drinking increases substantially among some groups in the US, study says

High-risk alcohol use, which the study's authors define as women consuming four or more drinks, or men consuming five or more drinks, on at least a weekly basis, had a relative increase of 29.9% in the total population, going from 9.7% in 2001 to 2002 to 12.6% in 2012 to 2013. The numbers reveal "a public health crisis", the authors say. But after that point, drinking rates started to rise significantly, with high-risk drinking rising slightly.

Women, older adults, racial minorities and those with lower levels of education and income experienced the greatest increase in drinking rates.

The study data were derived from face-to-face interviews conducted in two nationally representative surveys of US 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.

The study found the number of American adults with an alcohol dependence increased nearly 50 percent during the period studied. 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 presents data from two national surveys conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 2001-2002 and 2012-2013. In 2015, the survey found about 15.7 million people had an alcohol use disorder in the past year, and 7.7 million people had an illicit drug use disorder.

The study's authors characterize the findings as a serious and overlooked public health crisis, noting that alcoholism is a significant driver of mortality from a cornucopia of ailments: "fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, liver cirrhosis, several types of cancer and infections, pancreatitis, type 2 diabetes, and various injuries". Alcohol use can also put older adults at a higher risk for a fall and for chronic diseases that can be caused by alcohol use. This is especially true among women, older adults, racial/ethnic minorities, and the socioeconomically disadvantaged.

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During the same time period, the incidence of alcohol use disorder rose from 8.5 percent to 12.7 percent. 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.

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

The proportion of adults who said they'd consumed alcohol over the previous year increased from about 65% to about 73% during the study period.

These subgroup-specific increases could prove to have particularly deadly effects, the study's authors noted. Alcohol is widely available and advertisements send the message that "you cannot imagine that anybody can exist without alcohol", he says. Plus, the authors also highlighted the financial burden that's associated with heavy drinkers.

"Policymakers and health professionals need to be aware of this, too", she added. "Clearly, alcohol does not get the necessary attention given the problems it causes", says Rehm.

Risky alcohol use did increase in the men who were surveyed, but not to the same extent that it did for the other groups.

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