The Pink Elephant in the Room is being ignored: why don’t we pay attention to the excessive drinking epidemic?
More Americans are drinking at least once a week, according to a study published on August 9, 2017 in JAMA Psychiatry. This number could be as high as 30 million which is similar to the data reported for individuals with alcohol abuse or dependency. Women showed the largest increase in the latest study. Older Americans, minorities and people with lower levels of education and income also showed significant increases from prior studies. For example, high-risk drinking in the 2012-2013 survey was 16.4% for men and 9.0% for women. Alcohol Abuse or Dependency rose to 16.7% for men and 9.0% for women. The percentage of Americans reporting “Any Drinking” increased to 76.7% from 71.8% for men and 69.0% from 59.6% for women as compared to the study conducted in 2001-2002. When the number of people drinking at least once a week is compared between the two studies, 7 million more people are binge drinking once a week.
The JAMA Psychiatry study also revealed interesting facts about income and minority group drinking with significant increases seen in every group when comparing results from the 2001-2002 to the 2012-2013 studies. More alarming are the consequences for health care, well-being and mortality. Excess drinking caused an average of 88,000 deaths each year from 2006-2010. This is more than twice the death rates for prescription opioids and heroin last year. The CDC attributes one in every 10 deaths to excessive drinking. Americans are killing themselves with alcohol.
Alcohol use is heavily promoted in our society by the liquor, beer and wine industries who pour huge amounts of money into advertising their products and increasing accessibility. Flavored vodkas, wine coolers, hard lemonade and alcohol-based iced tea drinks are driving consumption. Alcohol is legal and we tend to regard the problem of excessive drinking as an individual’s character flaw and not the epidemic which it really is.
Less than one-fifth of Americans who report alcohol abuse or dependency have ever been treated and many of those may consume one-fifth of alcohol during a binge. Sobering facts to consider here.