Skip to content

Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

Font Size

As Economy Goes Down, Drinking Goes Up

Study Shows an Increase in Alcohol Abuse During an Economic Recession
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 13, 2011 -- When the going gets tough, it seems that a lot of us may go drinking.

Along with higher unemployment and bankruptcy, an economic recession brings increased drinking of alcohol, a study suggests. The increased use of alcohol includes binge drinking, problem drinking, and driving under the influence.

The study is published in Health Economics.

The findings run counter to what had previously been thought about drinking habits during economic downturns.

"It was thought that when unemployment goes up, income goes down and people will consume less because they don't have the resources," says study researcher Michael T. French, PhD, a professor of health economics at the University of Miami.

"People are self-medicating with alcohol," French says. "If you have more free time, you can engage in activities like drinking more frequently than if you were employed. The self-medication and leisure time effect are dominating the income effect."

The new study tracked alcohol drinking patterns from 2001 to 2005, which predates the current recession. This means that things may be a whole lot worse now, French says. "There will also likely be an uptick in addiction and treatment admissions due to alcohol abuse."

Increase in Binge Drinking

According to the new report, overall, people drink more during a recession, but African-Americans and people aged 18 to 24 are among the most likely to binge drink.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person's blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 grams percent or above. For men, this may occur after having five or more drinks in about two hours. Among women, binge drinking involves four or more drinks in about two hours.

It's not just the down and out that are drowning their spirits with spirits either. Drinking is more common as the education level and income goes up, the study shows.

People who are employed binge drink more frequently and are more likely to drive after having too much to drink during a bad economy than during a good one, French says.

Stress and Worry During Bad Economy

"Even if you have a job, you may be concerned about losing it or maybe you are worried about other family members who are at risk for losing a job," he says.

We are talking about the high-functioning alcohol abuser here, says addiction specialist Paul Leslie Hokemeyer, PhD. He works at the Caron Treatment Center's New York City office.

"From the outside, their lives look perfect," he says. "They have a job, two cars, own a house, and have kids in private schools, but they are being eaten up by a sense of anxiety and helplessness."

"People who do have jobs may keep it together and go to work during the week, but then on the weekend, they start drinking and they can't stop," he says.

Today on WebMD

pills pouring from prescription bottle
Hangover Myths Slideshow
Woman experiencing withdrawal symptoms
prescription medication
Hands reaching for medicine
overturned shot glass
assortment of medication
How to Avoid Social Drinking