Studies Suggest Alcohol Abuse and its Effects Are On the Rise

by Chris Clancy

January 8, 2018


After years of decline, it appears that alcohol abuse is again on the rise in the U.S.

According to a study published in September 2017 in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Psychiatry, alcohol use spiked by 11 percent between 2002 and 2013.

“Substantial increases in alcohol use, high-risk drinking, and DSM-IV alcohol use disorder constitute a public health crisis,” said the study’s authors in describing their findings, “especially among women, older adults, racial/ethnic minorities, and the socioeconomically disadvantaged.”

Data for the JAMA Psychiatry study came from face-to-face interviews conducted in two national surveys of U.S. 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, with data collected from April 2012 to June 2013.

Other Findings

The study’s findings are consistent with alcohol-related findings from other sources:

  • Alcohol-related visits to U.S. hospital emergency departments saw an approximate 50 increase—from 2.5 million to 3.9 million—from 2001 to 2011, according to data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS).
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control, alcohol is the third-leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., just after complications related to tobacco use and poor diet and lack of physical activity.
  • Nearly half of all deaths stemming in 2013 from cirrhosis, or late-stage scarring of the liver, were traced to alcohol, according to the National Institutes of Health. Cirrhosis deaths had been declining for three decades before seeing an uptick in 2006.
  • According to a study by NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol misuse took an economic toll of $249 billion in 2010, with three-quarters of the cost related to binge drinking episodes. (The NIAAA defines binge drinking as typically four drinks for women and five drinks for men within the space of two hours.)

What may be most alarming about the increase in alcohol abuse and its effects is evidence that suggests the surges could continue. The NIH’s NIAAA study also found that, in 2015, roughly 27 percent of people aged 18 or older said they had engaged in binge drinking the past month.

In 2015, 15.1 million Americans aged 18 or older reported having an alcohol use disorder, while 623,000 teens in the U.S. between the ages of 12 and 17 said they had an alcohol use disorder. Also in 2015, more than 5 million people aged 12 to 21 said they had engaged in binge drinking at least once in the past month, and 1.3 million people aged 12 to 21 reported heavy alcohol use at some point in the past month.

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