A new study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, (JAMA Psychiatry), shows that increases in alcohol use and high-risk drinking, especially among women, older adults, racial/ethnic minorities, and the socioeconomically disadvantaged, now constitute a public health crisis.
The disturbing upward trend in binge drinking noted in the study, indicates the number of adults who binge drink at least once a week could be as high as 30 million.
“This should be a big wake-up call,” said David Jernigan, at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, speaking to Bloomberg News about the study. “Alcohol is our number one drug problem, and it’s not just a problem among kids.”
According to the study, while underage drinking has declined in recent years, adult consumption increased across all demographics. The jump was also especially large for older Americans, minorities and people with lower levels of education and income.
Bridget Grant, a researcher at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and lead author of the paper, told Bloomberg, ”The rise is startling. We haven’t seen these increases for three or four decades.”
Bloomberg reported that “the consequences for health care, well-being, and mortality noted in the study are severe. Excess drinking caused on average more than 88,000 deaths in the U.S. each year from 2006 to 2010, the Centers for Disease Control estimates—more than twice the number of deaths from prescription opioids and heroin last year. The total includes drunk-driving deaths and alcohol-linked violence, as well as liver disease, strokes and other medical conditions. The CDC says drinking too much is responsible for one in 10 deaths among working-age Americans.”
The estimated cost of excess alcohol consumption is almost $250 billion a year in the U.S.
“Americans tend to consider excess drinking a character flaw rather than a medical problem. Only about one-fifth of people who have reported alcohol abuse or dependency have ever been treated,” Grant found. “That compares with a treatment rate of about 60 percent for depression,” she said.
“I think that there’s a lot of stigma still associated with it and people don’t want to talk to their doctors about it,” Grant said. “We haven’t done the job for alcohol that we’ve done with depression.”