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Economy Driving Americans to Drink?

Recessions, Demographic Shifts May Play a Role in Increased Alcohol Consumption, Researchers Say
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 5, 2010 -- More Americans are drinking alcohol, and the increase is seen in three major ethnic groups -- whites, blacks, and Hispanics, according to a new study.

“The reasons for the uptick vary and may involve complex socio-demographic changes in the population, but the findings are clear,” says study researcher Raul Caetano, MD, PhD, MPH, dean of the University of Texas Southwestern School of Health Professions. “More people are consuming alcohol now than in the early 1990s.”

“Changes in the population due to aging, the influx of immigrant groups, and a decline in mean income level because of economic recessions can all impact trends in drinking and problems associated with drinking,” he says in a news release.

Caetano says health officials should monitor Americans’ alcohol intake to better understand what is driving more people to drink. Better monitoring, he says, also could shed light on why risky behaviors such as binge drinking and drinking to intoxication are also apparently on the rise.

Researchers examined data from surveys done in 1991-1992 and 2001-2002 by trained interviewers who spoke with people aged 18 or older in their homes. Each survey included about 43,000 people.

Drinkers were defined in both studies as people who had at least 12 drinks containing at least 0.6 ounces of any kind of alcohol within the past year.

10-Year Trend of Alcohol Consumption

The study is published in the October issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. In the period analyzed, 1992 through 2002:

  • The proportion of drinkers rose across both genders and three ethnic groups.
  • 58.3% of white males, 52.9% of Hispanic males, and 46.5% of black males were classified as current drinkers in 1992, compared to 63.5% of white males, 60.2% of Hispanic males, and 52.5% of black males in 2002;
  • 37.6% of white females, 23.7% of Hispanic females, and 21.2% of black females were classified as current drinkers in 1992, compared to 46.9% of white females, 31.6% of Hispanic females, and 30.3% of black females in 2002.
  • The average number of drinks per month did not significantly change from 1992 to 2002 for all groups.
  • Drinking to intoxication was more likely among whites in 2002 than 1992, but drinking to intoxication at least once a month was more likely among both whites and blacks in 2002 than 1992.
  • Binge drinking, or drinking five or more drinks in a day, did not change in the 10-year period, but drinking five or more drinks at least once a month was more likely for all groups in 2002.
  • Males younger than 60 who did not have a college degree were more likely to drink more drinks per month than more educated people. Unemployed males also were more likely to report getting drunk more than once a month. So were those who were not married or in a relationship.

The study findings suggest “that a variety of public health policies such as restrictions on alcohol advertising, regulating high alcohol content beverages, increasing taxes on alcohol, as well as treatment and brief interventions may be needed to reduce alcohol-related problems,” Caetano says.

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