Study Finds Americans Drinking More Heavily Than Ever

By McCarton Ackerman 04/29/15

Alcohol consumption has increased drastically in the last ten years.

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Americans are not known for their moderation and a new study has confirmed just that when it comes to drinking, with alcohol consumption throughout the U.S., now at an all-time high.

The findings, released from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, examined the rates of drinking in every U.S. county from 2002-2012 and heavy drinking from 2005-2012. Rates of heavy drinking increases by 17.2% during this time period, while some counties saw general alcohol consumption increase by as much as 78% between 2002-2012.

"It confirms what we have been seeing in a whole other group of metrics," said Dr. George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “We have seen an increase in the same time period of hospitalizatons due to alcohol and emergency room visits due to alcohol."

The scientists defined binge drinking as consuming more than four drinks in a sitting within 30 days for women and more than five drinks in a  sitting within 30 days for men. Heavy drinking was defined as having more than one drink per day on average for women and two for men.

Approximately 18% of all Americans could be classified as binge drinkers and 8% met the criteria for heavy drinkers. The county of Menominee, Wis., had the highest rates of binge drinking at 36%., while Madison County, Idaho had the lowest at 5.9%. Esmeralda County, Nev., topped the heavy drinking charts at 22.4%, while Falls Church, Va., had the highest rates of any type of drinking at 78.7%. However, the overall percentage of drinkers remained at 56% in 2005 and 2012.

Perhaps the most surprising discovery is that women are now, as Koob explained it, “drinking more like men, to put it bluntly.” Binge drinking rose 17.5% among women between 2005-2012, compared to a 4.9% increase among men. Although men drank more overall, the rate in which women drank increased significantly more.

College drinking continues to soar, although the issue lies with an increase in binge drinking rather than an increased percentage of drinkers. Koob advocated for alcohol dependency screenings, alcohol taxes, and laws that hold establishments responsible for over-serving patrons to help address the problem, noting that it’s “rapidly becoming obvious to people that you can’t just turn kids loose at college and expect them to handle themselves.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.