How Drinking Culture Is Killing America
America likes to drink.
The question is: Does America like to drink too much?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed the numbers and, well, the answer might be an alarming yes. More than 38 million adults in the United States reported binge drinking an average of four times per month and consume an average of eight drinks per binge.
And when it comes to our underage citizens, approximately 5.3 million people between the ages of 12 and 20 were considered binge drinkers, according to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, with binge drinking being defined as four or more drinks within two hours for women and five or more drinks for men.
In a country where drinking culture has transformed itself into binge culture, more and more people have accepted the social norm of drinking with the purpose of getting drunk as a staple within youth, and by extension, American culture. Popularized by comedy films such as Neighbors (and Neighbors 2), The Hangover trilogy, and How to Be Single, binge drinking culture has manifested itself as a huge role in US drinkers’ lifestyles.
But with scientific studies proving the correlation between heavy alcohol intake and negative health effects—causing cancer, liver disease, and brain damage—at what point should Americans ask themselves: Does our drinking culture need to change?
ALCOHOL IS THE FOURTH-LEADING KILLER IN THE UNITED STATES, SAYS NIAAA
It’s no surprise that alcohol causes numerous deaths, with news reports on drunken driving, underage drinking, and alcohol-related health issues airing every day, but even these issues pose themselves as distant concerns to the average US citizen.
The numbers are sobering: nearly 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes every year, says the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), making alcohol the fourth-leading preventable cause of death in the US.
Of those, more than 2,200 deaths in the United States were related to alcohol poisoning, averaging six deaths per day. Most alcohol poisoning deaths tend to occur among men and in older age groups, with 3 in 4 deaths involving adults between the ages of 35 and 64.
The numbers don’t stop there. In 2014, according to the NIAAA, driving fatalities caused by drunken driving amounted to 9,967 deaths. In 2013, about 33,232 deaths were due to liver disease developed by prolonged alcohol abuse, nearly half of all liver disease deaths in the nation. When it comes to sexual consequences, 696,000 people between the ages of 18 and 24 reported being assaulted by someone who was drinking while 97,000 reported experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
If you think the numbers are overwhelming, you’re right. They are.
The fact of the matter is: in 2015, a study by JAMA Psychiatry determined that 32 million people in the United States—nearly 1 in 7 Americans—were said to be struggling with a serious alcohol problem.
This goes beyond drunken shenanigans in college and unfortunate tragedies on the road, incidents that have numbed Americans into believing these are just everyday problems. This is a drinking culture that has cost the United States nearly $250 billion for alcohol misuse problems (e.g. alcohol-related crimes, treatment for health and addiction issues, and a decrease in workplace productivity)—three-quarters of which was directly related to binge drinking.
BINGE DRINKING CULTURE ON THE RISE
“There has been this cultural shift—people are drinking more when they drink,” said George Koob, director of the NIAAA, in a Newsweek article about the growing trends of binge drinking culture among Americans.
The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) sent out a report last year on their analysis of heavy drinking rates between 2005 and 2012, finding a 17.2 percent spike across the nation. Dr. Ali Mokdad, who helped write the report, noted three significant factors of this increase: socioeconomic factors, availability of alcohol, and shifting social norms.
“The percentage of people who drink is not changing much, but among drinkers, we are seeing more heavy drinking and more binge drinking,” said Mokdad to USA Today. “We’re going in the wrong direction.”
American drinking culture, Mokdad describes, goes hand in hand with the capitalistic agenda. People who can afford drinking a glass of wine every night will do so for health benefits, whereas poorer populations tend to take their opportunities to binge on as much alcohol until the next time they can get some.
Bar crawls line up down touristy avenues, offering Happy Hour specials and menu deals to tipsy consumers to fuel the local economy. Bring Your Own Beer/Beverage, or #BYOB, promotions on social media attract drinkers to any event—from BYOB painting classes to BYOB concerts. Communal celebrations among college students, sports fans, and young adults are nightlong alcohol fests.
And don’t think American drinking culture is a male-exclusive hobby. Binge drinking rates among women rose 17.5 percent between 2005 and 2012, as compared to men’s 4.9 percent increase.
“Women are drinking more like men, to put it bluntly,” said Koob.
WOMEN ARE DRINKING MORE, BUT WHY?
“If I want to be treated as an equal, I need to act like an equal to the men in my industry,” said Anne S., the founder of a tech startup in Washington, DC, to Makers. “And so when they talk about craft beer or want to go out and have some whiskey, I might not say yes every time, but I’m not going to say no every time.”
Perhaps in the 1950s, it was unheard of to see a woman be part of the regular drinking crowd, but as more women enter the modern-day workforce, it’s part of the networking game. Educated women with high-pressure jobs are juggling several reasons for why they drink: keeping up with office drinking culture, cooling off after a stressful day at work, using their high-paying salaries to splurge on cocktail rounds, and taking opportunities at squeezing out career advice from their higher-ups or the great boss in person.
To gain respect, women are meeting the standards men hold for themselves—and in the United States, the person in power knows how to drink. Women with a master’s degree or higher reported high drinking rates than women without a diploma (74 percent to 34 percent), according to the CDC. Women with higher paying salaries and who worked longer hours in the office also reported drinking more. To keep playing with the boys, women have learned to start drinking like them.
But while women have learned how to “hold their liquor,” they also set themselves up for health risks.
“The impact on the brain, the liver, the heart, is greater in a woman who drinks the same amount as a man drinks,” says Deidra Roach, M.D., NIAAA medical project officer to Makers. On average, women’s bodies are smaller and contain less of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol, allowing for greater chances to get drunk quicker and with less alcohol than the average man.
When it comes to women’s health, heavy drinking and binge drinking can raise the risk for breast cancer, affect pregnancy and fertility, and cause hormonal imbalances. Memory loss, poor concentration, and fatigue also increase among women who drink too heavily.
IT’S TIME TO BUILD A BETTER DRINKING CULTURE
Instead of trying to meet the demands of today’s drinking culture, Americans should aim to revolutionize it to be healthier for all parties involved. Better Drinking Culture devotes itself to educating and encouraging drinkers across the United States, both young and old, on how to discipline their drinking habits so that people can have more of a good time and less of a headache in the morning.
Here at Pathway to Hope, we also encourage better drinking habits for those who can practice safe drinking on their own.
Here are a few tips to follow:
Better Drinking Habits
Take your time and enjoy your drink slowly. Sip, don’t chug.
Keep track of the number of drinks you’ve had on one occasion. If with friends, you can ask to keep track of each other at a party for extra safety.
Set a limit before you start drinking and stick to it. If it’s two drinks and you’re done, then that’s it.
Switch between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated throughout the event.
Eat while you drink to delay alcohol absorption in your system. This will also help you pace your drinking.
Prepare a polite, casual way of saying “no, thanks” to friends, family, and strangers when you’ve hit your personal drink limit.
Negotiate a safe drive home. Make sure a designated driver is arranged beforehand so that someone can drive home sober to keep everyone safe. If no one takes on this role, then hail a taxi or call an Uber/Lyft to take you and friends home. Driving while drunk is not worth your life. Always put safety first.
Ask yourself why you drink. Part of maintaining good drinking habits is keeping checks on why you drink. Social drinking can be a casual, enjoyable experience if done responsibly. Drinking with the purpose of getting drunk, however, can form serious health problems and should be recognized as soon as possible. It may be hard to admit, but if you begin to notice an issue with alcohol in yourself or a loved one, it may be time to speak up and get help.
For some people, their alcohol intake is a little bit more than just a habit they need to fix. People who suffer from alcoholism or alcohol use disorder may need more help with containing their addiction to alcohol by seeking treatment.
At Pathway to Hope, we aim to support all our clients with love and understanding as they begin their recovery process. If you, or a loved one, are suffering from an alcohol and/or drug addiction, feel free to call one of our treatment specialists at (866) 643-9415, and learn more about substance abuse and treatment methods. Our agents are available 24-7 and are eagerly awaiting your call today!