As many students pack up and head off for college, some for the first time, it’s traditional for parents to offer a simple warning: “Students drink too much.” But according to a study published this week, it would be appropriate this year for students respond with an equally valid warning: “So do parents.”
A study published in JAMA Psychiatry this week found that drinking has increased substantially among adults of almost all demographic groups — but especially among women. In fact high-risk drinking — defined as at least four drinks a day for women and five for men — increased roughly 30 percent between 2001 and 2013.
The study, conducted by researchers from the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism, the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University, found that the proportion of Americans who are developing alcohol dependence is a “public health crisis.”
Excessive drinking on college campuses remains an ongoing concern as well. Binge drinkers face increased risks of car accidents, sexual assault and disease, and long-term health consequences including links to cirrhosis, heart and brain damage and cancer. The number of adults who binge drink at least once a week could be as high as 30 million.
The 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that if alcohol is consumed, it should be in moderation — up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men — and only by adults of legal drinking age. No amount is safe for pregnant women or those who may be pregnant.
The trouble is that two in three adult drinkers report drinking above moderate levels at least once a month.
While the national conversation about substance use disorders focuses on opiate abuse, it’s important to remember that the most devastating overall abused drug continues to be alcohol. Twice as many people die from alcohol-related problems than prescribed opioids and heroin.
Granted, it’s a challenging message given how tourism and wine-based industries fuel much of the wealth of our community. The 2016 area fruit generated a cash value of almost $1.5 billion, including a record of $717 million in Napa County and $581 million in Sonoma County.
Nonetheless, this is an important conversation to have. It’s up to all of us to speak up to family and friends when excess drinking concerns arise.
Doctors, too, can step up by recommending more health screenings, including checks on liver and kidney function. Anyone in proximity to abusive drinkers should urge individuals to seek help. Treatment is available; the challenge is convincing those in need to accept it.
The new study offers one nugget of hope: underage drinking is dropping. Yet young women are now more prone to abuse alcohol than young men.
Just why the overall abuse of alcohol is rising among adult groups is not known. Maybe it should be part of that discussion that parents have with their children this fall.
Let’s hope all parties are willing to listen.