Americans Are Drinking More Alcohol and It’s a “Public Health Crisis”

updated May 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

American adults’ love for alcohol has grown over the past 10 years, a new study finds. The study, published earlier this month in JAMA Psychiatry, found more Americans are partaking in dangerous drinking habits. This phenomenon is seen across the board for adults in the U.S., but especially amongst women whose drinking habits are up by 58 percent. The study calls it “a public health crisis.”

“We found that both alcohol use and high-risk drinking, which is sometimes called binge-drinking, increased over time,” says Deborah Hasin, a professor of epidemiology at the Columbia University Medical Center and an author of the study. Binge-drinking, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is defined as “a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above.” This means typically five drinks for men, and four drinks for women.

The researchers conducted two rounds of face-to-face interviews of 40,000 adults: the first was 2001 to 2002 and the second was 2012 to 2013. With a decade in between the two interviews, the researchers were able to see how drinking habits changed. They found alcohol consumption increased by 11 percent and Alcohol Use Disorder was up by 49 percent.

What factors are contributing to the rise in drinking? There’s no set answer — the study can’t determine that based on the design — but Hasin attributes an array of variables, including a poor outlook on the economy. She told NPR that “increasing numbers of people feel pessimistic about their economic chances.” It’s a fitting hypothesis considering there’s a notable increase in alcohol intake among low-income individuals.

As for the 58 percent increase in women, there are a few factors potentially at play: the taboo of women drinking is down, and companies are catering and marketing to women.

“The gender gap in drinking is narrowing,” Bridget Grant, the study’s lead author and an epidemiologist at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, says. She adds it could be because “stigma for women drinking is lessening.”

Aside from low-income people and women, other specific demographics have seen a sharp uptick. Like black Americans (62 percent), those 65 years and older (65 percent), and those aged 45 to 64 with Alcohol Use Disorder (82 percent).