America May Be In The Middle Of An Alcohol Crisis

By Britni de la Cretaz 08/11/17

A new study revealed that there has been a sharp and troubling increase of alcohol abuse in the US. 

a group of women holding beer bottles

According to a new study published this week in JAMA Psychiatry, the number of adults who binge drink at least once per week is astronomical—roughly 30 million people. Alcohol abuse or dependency was reported by a similar number of people.

The study, which recorded survey answers for the year 2012-2013, was a follow-up to one conducted in 2001-2002. It found that, compared with 9.7% in 2001-2002, about 12.6% of adults reported risky drinking behavior during the previous year. High-risk behavior was defined as drinking more than the federal guidelines for excessive alcohol consumption—four drinks in a day for women and five drinks for men, at least once per week. Bloomberg explains that the increase represents at least 7 million more people binge drinking weekly.

But the increase in alcohol abuse or dependence, measured with diagnostic criteria from the DSM-5, was even greater. Approximately 12.7% reported abuse or dependence in 2012-2013, up from 8.5% in 2001-2002. That’s equivalent to about 10.5 million people.

Bridget Grant, a researcher at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and lead author of the paper, was startled by the sharp increase. She told Bloomberg, “We haven’t seen these increases for three or four decades.”

In terms of gender breakdown, women showed a larger increase (83.7% over 11 years) in alcohol misuse. That finding is consistent with other research, as Gabrielle Glaser lays out in her book, Her Best-Kept Secret, the data shows that drinking has been on the rise among women for a while. Particularly among Gen X women, wine consumption is increasing. As Glaser told The Fix in 2014, “There’s just so much anxiety that women have today. I think a lot of women are crawling out of their skin.”

It’s why Ann Dowsett Johnston, author of Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, calls alcohol “the working woman’s steroid,” as she told Tonic earlier this year. Johnston says alcohol allows women to feel like they can do it all in a world “where the labor is still not evenly split, and it's the quickest way to decompress at the end of a demanding workday, not to mention potentially parenting kids.”

As for this most recent study, Jürgen Rehm, senior director of the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, told Bloomberg, “The response of society should be commensurate to the level of the problem”—yet there is no response in the U.S. to alcohol like there has been to combat opioids, for example.

“Alcohol, we just tend to overlook,” said Rehm.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.