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12 August 2017, 02:15 | Todd Saunders
Americans are drinking more than ever, especially women!
The numbers reveal "a public health crisis", the authors say.
"These findings portend increases in many chronic comorbidities in which alcohol use has a substantial role", the researchers write.
Heavy drinking can cause high blood pressure, heart problems, stroke, cancer and infections, and liver problems. The rate of high-risk drinking stood at 10 percent (20 million people) in 2001-2002.
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 US adults.
The study's authors have deemed this broad increase in alcohol use to be a "public health crisis" that "may have been overshadowed by increases in much less prevalent substance abuse", such as opiates and marijuana. But they noted that the increase in high-risk and problem drinking among older adults is "unprecedented".
The study's findings, the authors wrote, "herein highlight the urgency of educating the public, policymakers, and health care professionals about high-risk drinking and AUD, destigmatizing these conditions and encouraging those who can not reduce their alcohol consumption on their own, despite substantial harm to themselves and others, to seek treatment".
Between 2001-2002 and 2012-2013, heavy drinking increased across all demographic groups.
Increases in alcohol abuse were greatest among women, older adults, racial/ethnic minorities, and individuals with lower educational level and family income.
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Older adults, too, had sharp increases, even though the group has traditionally had lower rates of alcohol use compared to the overall population.
In the first survey, 65.4 percent of Americans reported that they drink alcohol; in the second survey, that number climbed to 72.7 percent.
Though the study reflects stark increases among the population overall, the most noticeable rises were in various population subgroups. The increases were especially steep for women, minorities and those over 65 (see graph). Unlike high-risk drinking, which is defined by an amount of alcohol consumed, alcohol use disorder is classified according to psychological criteria. 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. Among black people, it increased by 92.8 percent.
This study wasn't created to determine why people are drinking more. Alcohol is widely available and advertisements send the message that "you cannot imagine that anybody can exist without alcohol", he says.
So, what exactly is binge drinking? By 2013, almost three-quarters of American adults said they had consumed alcohol within the a year ago. "Policymakers and health professionals need to be aware of this, too". The stigma associated with heavy drinking and alcohol use disorder is also an issue, deterring people from getting help.
As alcohol use increased, the differences between the two surveys became even starker.
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.
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