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Alcoholism Epidemic in the US: More Than 1 in 8 Americans Are Now Alcoholics

The opioid epidemic has been making headlines in the U.S., but another public health crisis is also in the making, this time involving alcohol, according to a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry.1 In the time period spanning 2001-2002 to 2012-2013, 30 percent more Americans engaged in high-risk drinking. The study included data from nearly 80,000 Americans and found statistically significant increases in alcohol use across all sociodemographic groups.

However, increases in alcohol use, high-risk drinking and alcohol use disorder (AUD) (or alcohol dependence) were greatest among women, older adults, racial/ethnic minorities and people with lower educational level and family income. The increase "constitute[s] a public health crisis," the researchers said. "Taken together, these findings portend increases in many chronic comorbidities in which alcohol use has a substantial role."2

1 in 8 Americans May Struggle With Alcoholism

The greatest increases occurred among heavy alcohol users; the number of people diagnosed with alcoholism increased by 49 percent during the study period and is estimated to affect nearly 13 percent of Americans.3

Study author Bridget Grant of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism told International Business Times UK, "The increases were unprecedented relative to the past two decades … [and] may have been overshadowed by increases in less prevalent drugs like marijuana and opioids, although all increases in alcohol and other substances are important."4

Overall, the number of people who reported drinking alcohol (in any amount) shot up from 65 percent to nearly 73 percent of Americans. About one-third of them engage in "high-risk drinking," which was defined as five or more standard drinks for men or four or more drinks for women at least once a week. Among women, however, this type of binge drinking increased by nearly 58 percent over the study period.5

As for why alcoholism may be on the rise, Vox noted, "Over the past few decades, alcohol has become easier to access, while addiction treatment services have remained hard to reach.

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