Alcoholism: America’s Other Epidemic

39427273_sWhile the nation focuses on the deadly opioid epidemic, new studies have found that in the past 10 years, the number of Americans diagnosed with alcoholism rose 49 percent, which equates to 12.7 percent of the total population.

The International Business Times (IBT) UK is reporting on the study, published in JAMA Psychiatry and based on surveys totaling nearly 80,000 people, which found that Americans are becoming increasingly heavy drinkers, with the greatest rise among women, the elderly, and ethnic minorities.

The results are based on two large surveys – one conducted in 2001 involving 43,000 people and the second conducted 10 years later and involving 36,000. The samples, which were large enough to include people from all walks of life, found that while the number of teetotalers (persons who abstain from alcohol) is falling, the number of people who are engaging in high risk drinking and alcoholism rose by almost 30 percent. This equates to 29.6 million Americans who are regularly putting their health at risk due to their drinking habits.

According to a previous article appearing in the IBT, the maximum recommended weekly amount of alcohol for men and women is 14 units per week – which translates to one and a half bottles of wine or six to seven pints of beer. 

Men are considered to be in the high-risk category if they consume five or more drinks on one day at least once a week. Women fall into the same category if they drink four or more in a day once per week.

Although no level of regular drinking is considered to be completely safe, men and women are advised to abstain from alcohol several days a week. Instead of drinking heavily on one session, they should spread their consumption of alcohol over two or three days.

Failure to abide by these guidelines has resulted in a worrisome jump in the number of Americans who fall into the most severe alcohol use category.

“The number of people who had received a diagnosis of alcoholism over the period of the two studies shot up by 49%, affecting 12.7% of the total population. This means 1 in 8 Americans received a diagnosis of alcoholism in the year before the latest survey,” the IBT reports.

Of particular concern was the 83.7 percent increase in alcohol use disorder in the time period studied among women, the 81.5 percent increase in individuals age 45 to 64, and the 106.7 percent increase in those age 65 and older.

The study cites stress associated with pursuing a career and raising a family as possible causes for the increase in high-risk drinking among women, particularly because of the substantial increase in drinking among married women.

Increases in alcohol consumption in the elderly is also worrisome as this age group tends to be taking medications that are affected by alcohol consumption. They are also at higher risk for falls and injuries.

Study author Bridget Grant of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism told the IBT that these increases are “unprecedented relative to the past two decades.”

“The increases in alcohol related outcomes may have been overshadowed by increases in less prevalent drugs like marijuana and opioids, although all increases in alcohol and other substances are important,” Grant said.

The good news is that making people aware of the risks has been shown to change their behaviors. This is why the development of prevention and intervention programs is so important.

” . . . [T]e findings herein highlight the urgency of educating the public, policymakers, and health care professionals about high-risk drinking and AUD (alcohol use disorder), destigmatizing these conditions and encouraging those who cannot reduce their alcohol consumption on their own, despite substantial harm to themselves and others, to seek treatment.”

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