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American alcohol abuse on the rise

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More Americans Abuse Alcohol, Study Finds
By: Reuters

Thu Jun 10, 2004 05:46 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More Americans are abusing alcohol than in the 1990s, but fewer are technically alcoholics, U.S. government researchers said on Thursday.

They found that the number of American adults who abuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent rose to 17.6 million or 8.46 percent of the population in 2001-2002 from 13.8 million or 7.41 percent of the population in 1991-1992.

The researchers cannot say why heavy drinking is up.

"The fact that alcohol disorder rates are highest among young adults underscores the need for concerted research on drinking patterns that initiate in adolescence," said Dr. Ting-Kai Li, Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

The NIAAA study defines alcohol abuse as causing a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home; interpersonal social and legal problems; and/or drinking in hazardous situations.

Alcohol dependence, also known as alcoholism, is characterized by impaired control over drinking, compulsive drinking, preoccupation with drinking, tolerance to alcohol and/or withdrawal symptoms.

Across the decade, the rate of alcohol abuse increased to 4.65 percent of the general population from 3.03 percent, while the rate of alcoholism fell to 3.81 percent of the general population from 4.38 percent, Li's team reported in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

The survey was done by the U.S. Census Bureau, which interviewed more than 43,000 people face to face.

The survey found men more likely to abuse alcohol than women and people aged 18 to 44 were more likely to abuse alcohol than older people.

"Alcohol abuse is more prevalent among whites than among Hispanics, Blacks, and Asians. Alcohol dependence is more prevalent among Native Americans, Hispanics and whites than among Asians," the NIAAA, one of the National Institutes of Health, said in a statement.

"That rates of dependence overall decreased is not surprising in light of other surveys that indicate a decline in heavy drinking," said Bridget Grant, who led the study.

"That alcohol abuse seems to be increasing presents intriguing questions. What is clear is that no single environmental cause can explain the increase. Further research is an important public health priority."

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