New Study Suggests Alcohol Dependency is the Next Major Health Crisis

Created: 12 September, 2017
Updated: 17 October, 2022
3 min read

Americans are facing a new public health crisis. According to a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry, an astounding one in eight Americans are currently struggling with alcohol addiction.

The study tracked the drinking patterns of 40,000 people between the years of 2002 and 2003, and followed up with the participants ten years later in 2012-2013 to gain an accurate reading of their long-term drinking habits. The results are grim.

On the whole, alcohol disorders rose by an alarming 50 percent, and now affect 8.5 percent of the population, or 30 million Americans. But not all people are affected equally.

“The actual prevalence of both alcohol use, high-risk drinking and particularly alcohol use disorders is much larger than the magnitude of the problem for opioids or marijuana,” said Dr. Bridget Grant, the study’s lead author. “Even though all of those increases are very important — for alcohol and other substances — sometimes alcohol may get overshadowed, even though it is a more highly prevalent drug and is affecting 30 million people.”

According to this new research, alcohol dependencies have nearly doubled among the African American populations, and increased by 84 percent among women. Perhaps most surprising, however, was the increase found in today’s senior citizens. Individuals over the age of 65 saw a 106.7 percent increase in alcohol use disorders from 2002/2003-2012/2013.

Researchers are warning that alcohol addiction is on par with concerns about America’s opioid crisis, and are now labeling it as a public health concern that Americans should be more aware of.

“[This study] reminds us that the chilling increases in opioid-related deaths reflect a broader issue regarding additional substance-related problems,” Dr. Marc Schuckit, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego writes.

Not everyone is on board with these recent findings, however. The Distilled Spirits Council, which is made up of producers and marketers of distilled spirits, issued a response detailing that an annual survey of 70,000 people ages 12 and older shows that Americans are drinking less overall. The survey, which has been issued annually since 1988, finds that 15.7 million people had an alcohol dependency issue in the past year.

“While any amount of alcohol abuse is too much, the claims published in JAMA Psychiatry do not comport with findings of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the federal government’s leading survey that tracks substance use disorders,” Sam Zakhari, the Distilled Spirits Council senior vice president of science said in a recent statement.

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Regardless, it’s clear that drinking does pose a significant health threat to the public. High-risk drinking is linked to a number of diseases and psychiatric problems, as well as violence, crime, issues in the workplace, drunk driving incidents, and other destructive behaviors.

While the researchers didn’t theorize as to why these trends are occurring, they did note that it’s important that individuals suffering from these disorders may need additional help in seeking treatment and that governing bodies need to step up prevention efforts moving forward.

As the study concludes, “The findings...highlight the urgency of educating the public, policymakers, and healthcare professionals about high-risk drinking and , destigmatizing these conditions and encouraging those who cannot reduce their alcohol consumption to seek treatment.”

Photo Credit: Voyagerix / shutterstock.com

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