More Americans Are Becoming Heavy Drinkers

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A recent study maps out drinking county-by-county in the United States and finds that there are big variations in drinking patterns across the country, with binge drinking and other heavy drinking patterns on the rise overall. Published in the American Journal of Public Health, the study finds that heavy drinking among Americans is up more than 17 percent since 2005. By understanding where drinking is a problem, efforts to prevent drinking and to intervene can be more targeted.

Who Drinks the Most?

The study, which came from researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, is the first to look at drinking patterns by county across the U.S. The survey of drinking by adults found that heavy drinking is on the rise across the board. While the number of drinkers hasn’t changed significantly over the last decade, the amount of alcohol consumed has.

The researchers also found that there are large variations in drinking patterns. The county with the most binge drinkers is Menominee in Wisconsin, home to the Menominee Indian Reservation. Among adults living on the reservation, 36 percent binge drink. Madison County in Idaho is home to adults least likely to binge drink. Only 5.9 percent of Madison adults are binge drinkers, which may be explained by the heavy Mormon population.

The country’s heaviest drinkers can be found in Nevada’s Esmeralda County, a rural and sparsely-populated area. Only 2.4 percent of adults are likely to drink heavily in Hancock County, Tenn., on the opposite end of the spectrum. Taking a broader view, the study found that the highest rates of problem drinking are in New England, in the northern West and Midwest and along the Pacific Coast. Adults who are most likely to drink, albeit moderately, live in affluent areas where most residents are educated. Heavy drinking occurs most often in poor and rural communities.

Women Drinking More

Another important fact uncovered by the study is that women are drinking more than ever. This same result has been found by other researchers and highlights the need to apply more research to women and alcohol. Men are traditionally the subjects of research, but women are catching up to men in terms of drinking, and they experience unique health consequences. Why women are drinking more is not completely understood, but it may be related to an increasing presence in the workforce and the pressure of being working mothers.

Consequences of Drinking Too Much

Most people who drink too much or engage in binge drinking are not alcoholics. What most of these people don’t realize, though, is that you don’t have to be an alcoholic to suffer ill health effects from drinking. Heavy drinking patterns can cause a number of problems.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, binge drinking is associated with injuries, alcohol poisoning, liver disease, neurological damage, heart disease, sexually transmitted diseases and other issues. The consequences of binge drinking don’t just affect the drinker. Heavy drinking costs the U.S. billions of dollars every year in lost productivity, crimes and healthcare.

In pinpointing the locations in the U.S. where drinking is most problematic, the current study provides a guide for targeted interventions. If education and awareness campaigns, as well as accessible treatment, can be brought to the areas in which people overwhelmingly drink too much, we can begin to reduce problematic drinking and the problems it causes.

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