Americans are drinking a lot - and it's scaring researchers

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

The share of adults who promulgate any alcohol use, high risk drinking, or alcohol dependence or abuse have risen sharply. The economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in 2010 were estimated at $249 billion, according to the JAMA Psychiatry study.

The United States has a serious drinking problem. But with increased drinking comes increased health consequences - so much so that researchers are calling it a public health crisis.

These biggest increases were seen among women, older adults, minority groups, and people with low education or income levels.

The researchers also wrote that moderate drinking doesn't seem to cause alcohol use disorder rates to rise almost as much as heavy drinking does. The study found high-risk drinking among US adults spiked about 30 percent between 2001-2002 and 2012-2013.

The research team, lead by Dr Bridget Grant, compared survey data about alcohol use over two year-long periods, from 2001-2002, and 2012-2013, to compare the change over time. The proportion Americans developing alcohol dependence, it said could be considered a "public health crisis".

Increases in alcohol abuse were greatest among women, older adults, racial/ethnic minorities, and individuals with lower educational level and family income.

High-risk drinking - defined as having four or more drinks per day at least once a week each year - increased 15 percent in men, while dependency went up 35 percent. These face-to-face interviews queried adults 18 years and older on their drinking habits in the past 12 months. Some 12.7 percent of respondents reported such behavior in the 2012-13 period, compared with 8.5 percent in 2001-02. 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.

But in women, those categories jumped 60 percent and 84 percent, respectively.

"These findings portend increases in many chronic comorbidities in which alcohol use has a substantial role", the researchers write. Heavy alcohol use may also be contributing to a slowdown in the decline of death rates from cardiovascular diseases. In fact, there are more people like you now than in the past.

A new study found the rates of alcohol abuse are increasing in the United States, particularly among specific demographic groups. But after that point, drinking rates started to rise significantly, with high-risk drinking rising slightly. Women, for instance, are statistically more likely to take prescription drugs that could have an adverse effect with alcohol, and alcohol use can increase chances of breast cancer, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and other female-centric diseases. The stigma associated with heavy drinking and alcohol use disorder is also an issue, deterring people from getting help.

There "is and always has been" a lack of awareness regarding the health dangers of drinking excessively, Schuckit says. "Clearly, alcohol does not get the necessary attention given the problems it causes", says Rehm.

Between 2001 to 2002 and 2012 to 2013, 12-month alcohol use overall increased from 65.4% to 72.7% of the total population, a relative increase of 11.2%, the study discovered.

M. Schuckit. Remarkable increases in alcohol use disorders.

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