Since 2000, alcohol use, high-risk drinking, and alcohol-use disorders have increased among U.S. adults, according to a study that analyzed nationally representative data for nearly 80,000 people, published in JAMA Psychiatry in September 2017. These increases are occurring across almost all sociodemographic groups, especially women, older adults, racial and ethnic minorities, and those with lower educational levels and income.
Here are some estimates from the study, which are considerably higher than those previously reported by the National Institutes of Health:
- Between 2001-02 and 2012-13 (the most recent data), alcohol use increased from 65.4 percent to 72.7 percent of adults.
- High-risk drinking rose from 9.7 percent to 12.6 percent (29.6 million Americans), increasing by nearly one-third during this decade. High-risk drinking was defined as consuming four or more standard drinks on any day for women, five or more for men, and doing so at least once a week during the past year.
- Alcohol use disorders (such as addiction and dependence) increased from 8.5 to 12.7 percent of adults. That’s a whopping 50 percent increase since 2001 and represents a total of 30 million Americans. Among women, the prevalence of these disorders rose by 87 percent during this time; among African-Americans, by 93 percent; and among people ages 65 and older, by 107 percent. Large increases were also seen in people with only high school education and those with low incomes. The rise in alcohol use disorders among older people is particularly concerning because many of them have medical conditions that can be exacerbated by heavier drinking and take medications that interact with alcohol.
“These increases constitute a public health crisis that may have been overshadowed by increases in much less prevalent substance use (marijuana, opiates, and heroin) during the same period,” the study suggested.
As the accompanying editorial put it, this study “reminds us that the chilling increases in opioid-related deaths reflect a broader issue regarding additional substance-related problems.” These substance-abuse problems likely share contributing factors, such as economic woes caused by rising inequality in recent decades and the financial crisis starting in 2008. And they will be worsened if millions of Americans lose their ACA health insurance, which covers the treatment of substance abuse and the medical and mental disorders associated with it.