Nearly half of Americans can’t put down the bottle, study finds

New research shows most people who admit to being heavy drinkers are still at it years later

BOSTON — Drink responsibly? Nearly half of American adults do anything but, guzzling eye-opening amounts of booze, a new study finds. To make matters worse, most problem drinkers can’t stop, despite knowing all of the risks associated with alcohol use.

Researchers at Boston University recently analyzed data on over 34,000 Americans who completed two nationally-administered alcohol use surveys in the early 2000s. The first survey asked participants whether they consumed excessive amounts of alcohol; for men, this was considered 14 drinks a week, or four or more in one sitting, and for women, seven drinks a week, or three or more in one sitting. Three to four years later, participants were asked about their drinking habits once again.

Women toasting with glasses of wine
Drink responsibly? Nearly half of American adults do anything but, guzzling eye-opening amounts of booze, a new study finds. (Photo by Kelsey Chance on Unsplash)

The researchers found that a full 40 percent of respondents were heavy drinkers at the study’s outset, 73 percent of whom continued to drink excessively a few years later. Another 15 percent of respondents became heavy drinkers during the course of the study, the researchers noted.

“Some people just stop drinking too much, but most continue for years, and others not drinking too much will begin doing so during adulthood,” explains Richard Saitz, the study’s lead author, in a university release. “Public health and clinical messages need repeating, particularly in young adulthood. Once is not enough.”

Respondents who began drinking in excess were predominantly young adults, many of whom had just turned 21. Other demographic factors correlated with developing alcohol-related issues included being white, male, tobacco-dependent, and having a history of drug use.

On the other side of the coin, participants who were black, new parents, recently laid off, or inflicted by difficult life circumstances in between the two surveys, were least likely to develop an alcohol dependence.

By and large, these same demographic variables were also predictive of one’s ability to recover from alcoholism. These findings could help inform clinics on who most needs help.

“Screening or self-assessments, and counseling, feedback, or public health messaging have roles in interrupting these patterns,” Saitz stresses. “The predictors we identified may help target those efforts.”

The findings by Saitz et al. were published on July 17, 2018 in the Journal of Substance Abuse.


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