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Study Warns Of Binge-Drinking “Crisis” As Alcoholism Rates Spike 49%

The opioid epidemic isn’t the only public-health crisis plaguing the US.

Americans are hitting the bottle harder than ever, according to a new study published by JAMA Psychiatry, posing new challenges for the US’s strained health-care system as local hospitals and first responders struggle with the spike in substance-abuse related maladies, including overdoses and alcohol poisoning that warrant urgent care.

The JAMA study showed that rates of dangerous binge drinking rose dramatically between 2001 and 2013, with women, ethnic minorities, Americans over the age of 65 and low-education adults registering the largest increases.

“Twelve-month alcohol use significantly increased from 65.4% in 2001-2002 to 72.7% in 2012-2013, a relative percentage increase of 11.2%. Significant increases, seen across all sociodemographic subgroups, were particularly notable among women (15.8%), racial/ethnic minorities (from 17.2% among Hispanic to 29.1% among Asian or Pacific Islander individuals), adults 65 years and older (22.4%), and respondents with lower educational level and family income (range, 11.7%-22.3%).”

Furthermore, rates of diagnosed alcoholism climbed 49% to roughly one in eight Americans.

The prevalence of 12-month DSM-IV AUD increased significantly from 8.5% to 12.7% (change, 49.4%) in the total population. Significant increases in AUD were seen in all subgroups except Native Americans and those residing in rural areas. Notable increases were found among women (83.7%), racial/ethnic minorities (51.9% for Hispanic and 92.8% for black individuals), adults 65 years and older (106.7%), those with a high school education (57.8%) and less than a high school education (48.6%), those earning incomes of $20?000 or less (65.9%), those living within 200% of the poverty threshold (range, 47.1%-55.8%), and those residing in urban areas (59.5%).”

Rates of “high risk” drinking increased by 30%, with women and minorities again registering the biggest gains.

"The prevalence of 12-month high-risk drinking increased significantly between 2001-2002 and 2012-2013 from 9.7% to 12.6% (change, 29.9%) in the total population. Significant increases in high-risk drinking were also seen for all sociodemographic subgroups except Native Americans and respondents residing in rural areas. Increases were most notable among women (57.9%), other racial/ethnic minorities (from 40.6% among Hispanic to 62.4% among black individuals), adults 65 years and older (65.2%), persons previously married (widowed, divorced, or separated) (31.9%) and married or cohabitating respondents (34.2%), those with a high school education (42.3%) and less than a high school education (34.7%), those earning incomes of $19?999 or less (35.1%), and those residing in urban areas (35.1%)."

The spike in abuse rates among women was perhaps the study’s most alarming finding. The study’s authors speculated that, although men still struggle with higher rates of alcohol abuse, several factors are helping women close the gap. Women increasingly hold high-stress jobs, and social mores surrounding female behavior have grown more permissive.

“Greater sensitivity to adverse health effects of heavy drinking among women are potential biological factors influencing the convergence of rates between the sexes within the context of increasing rates of high-risk drinking and AUD. Drinking norms and values have become more permissive among women, along with increases in educational and occupational opportunities and rising numbers of women in the workforce, all of which may have contributed to increased high-risk drinking and AUD in women during the past decade.”

The rise in alcohol-abuse rates among older Americans was another discouraging revelation from the study – particularly because they’ve typically exhibited lower rates of abuse in the past. The study uncovered an unprecedented increase in abuse rates among the elderly, which is particularly problematic given the increased risk of mortality. Data for the study was collected from surveys of nearly 80,000 people, with the first conducted in 2001-2002, and the second in 2012-2013.