There’s nothing wrong with throwing back a drink or two after work with your colleagues, or pouring yourself a nice glass of red during dinner. Alcohol, in moderation, isn’t toxic. In fact, moderate drinking (one drink per day for women, two drinks per day for men) may actually help you live longer.
2. But Many People Are Drinking Heavily, Not Moderately
Studies show that there are health benefits of a cocktail or a beer every now and then. After all, we know how a glass of wine can diminish stress. And we also all know that stress = bad news for your health.
But a shocking number of Americans have passed the limits of moderate drinking and have ventured into heavy drinking. And this number is higher than you think.
According to a new study by JAMA Psychiatry, nearly one in eight Americans suffer from some kind of alcohol-related disorder. That means about 12.7 percent of the U.S. population is drinking heavily, and the number is only rising. In just the past decade, this number has increased by almost 50 percent.
The study included nationally representative samples of adults in the U.S., and researchers discovered that about 50 percent of the participants were dependent on alcohol in some capacity. People can be physically or psychologically dependent on alcohol, but either way, this dependence is a disease.
5. When It Comes To Booze, Americans Are Engaging In Risky Behaviors
According to the study, high-risk drinking in adults has skyrocketed since the early 2000s. High-risk drinking is classified as regularly consuming four drinks per day for women and five for men. This behavior has increased 30 percent since the last decade.
6. So What's The Cause Of This Increase In Alcohol Abuse?
The study’s lead author, Deborah Hasin, Ph.D., said that researchers are working to find a reason that explains this massive increase in alcohol consumption. Hasin, however, hypothesizes that it could be linked to changing social norms and as a means of self-medicating.
There's one simple explanation for why alcoholism is on the rise: booze is cheap. Alcohol prices are low right now, and that means even those in the lowest socioeconomic classes can get a good buzz without spending too much of their paychecks.
“The price of alcohol has fallen sharply over recent decades,” Keith Humphreys, a drug policy expert at Stanford University, told Vox. “And that is the most compelling reason for why the population is drinking more. Even the heaviest drinkers respond to changes in the cost of alcohol.”
This increase in alcoholism is disproportionate among socioeconomic groups. For instance, the study found that people earning $20,000 or less a year were more likely to be dependent on alcohol than people earning six figures. Alcoholism has surged in urban areas where most of the population lives below the poverty line, which may suggest that alcohol is relied on as a coping device for people who are struggling financially.
Socioeconomically disadvantaged groups aren’t the only ones affected by this rise in alcohol consumption. Women, racial minorities, people without higher education and older adults all displayed a higher rate of alcohol dependency.
The JAMA Psychiatry study states, “Wealth inequality between minorities and whites has widened during and after the 2008 recession, possibly leading to increased stress and demoralization.”
Between 2001 and 2015, the number of alcohol-induced deaths per year in the U.S. increased from around 20,000 to over 33,000. And data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that alcohol is linked to 88,000 deaths per year in the country. This number shows that significantly more Americans are dying from alcohol than from drugs.
11. Why Are We So Afraid Of Drugs But Not Alcohol?
More people are worried about the rise in opioid addiction (which, yes, is still a major problem) in America than about the rise in alcohol abuse. But why? Possibly because alcohol is a legal drug, and possibly because in general, society doesn’t view alcohol addiction the same way as it views drug addiction. Either way, though, addiction is addiction, and alcohol addiction has been proven deadly.
12. There's A Big Difference Between Light Drinking And Heavy Drinking
“Light drinking has been shown to be helpful for people’s health overall, but heavy drinking can lead to some harms and impairment,” Hasin told Reuters. And Hasin is right – heavy drinking can cause a number of health issues. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest health problems that arise from too much alcohol consumption....
There are many short-term health risks associated with binge drinking, including alcohol poisoning, risky sexual behaviors, and potentially fatal accidents, such as car crashes or drowning. Even one night of excessive partying could be deadly.
Some of the (many) long-term health risks that are associated with chronic alcohol abuse include high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Alcohol can also lead to certain cancers, including mouth, throat, liver, esophagus and colon cancers.
Heavy drinking is also linked to mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.
15. Concerned You May Have A Problem With Alcohol?
Do you spend a lot of time drinking and subsequently nursing hangovers? Have you gotten into dangerous situations because you were drunk? Has alcohol affected any of your relationships with family or friends?
If you answered yes, you may have a drinking problem, even though you may believe your relationship with alcohol is completely normal. If you do feel you need help with alcohol dependence, we urge you to seek help.