When the economy goes bad, jobs are hard to come by and people’s financial situations become shaky. Due either to the stress or to having too much time on their hands, people use alcohol at greater rates during times with a bad economy. So, with the United States in a decade-long recession, it should come as no surprise that alcohol addiction and abuse is a rising trend amongst some groups in the U.S.
The Generational Gap
Men and women of today have different working habits than those of men and women a hundred years ago. During the industrial revolution, being under a slight state of intoxication on a daily basis would have proved a major workplace danger. One could not be under the influence and safely make it through a day in a factory or another hands-on job.
Men and women of today have even have different working habits than those of men and women a half a century ago. With computers and technology, jobs today are more automated, and require less manual labor.
This is one possible reason that people in the U.S. born after World War II have a higher risk of binge-drinking and alcohol-related disorders than those people born prior to the war.
While alcohol-consumption in office environments in the 1960s, as brought into the American consciousness by some popular TV shows, wasn’t the norm, the free-loving decade did see a sharp rise in alcohol use in the U.S., which was part of an overall upward trend that peaked in 1975.
The Gender Gap
Today, alcohol abuse is lower than at its peak, but new trends in addiction have emerged. Historically, women have always had lower rates of alcohol use and addiction than men, but those statistics are currently changing. Women have been closing in on men in the problem drinking areas of how much alcohol they drink and how frequently they drink alcohol.
Binge drinking has increased amongst women in the U.S. to a point that experts advise that there needs to be a prevention program aimed expressly at women’s heavy drinking. Several hypotheses have been proposed as to why problem-drinking amongst U.S. women has seen such a sharp rise. These include:
- Alcohol advertising targeted more toward women or more gender neutral
- Women entering into the mainstream workforce
- Women socializing with male coworkers in industries where drinking after work is common
- Increased pressure of women holding full-time jobs, raising children and running a household
- Increased numbers of women on college campuses
- Financial independence, which increases access to alcohol
Since women are especially sensitive to guilt and shame issues surrounding alcohol abuse, women are also less likely to recognize they have a drinking problem and seek help.
The Impact of War
If the trend’s of today give insight into the trends of the past, the rise of alcohol abuse after World War II and throughout the 1960s may also have some correlation with the war itself, and more specifically post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Today, after a decade of war, drinking rates amongst veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan have shown increased rates of alcohol abuse. Aside from the obvious stress and adjustment-difficulties with which these veterans return to the U.S., veterans of the Iraq War have endured a prolonged abstinence from alcohol consumption, due to its illegality in the country. Due to this, they have a greater tendency to overindulge and have a lowered tolerance, giving them a lower threshold before their casual drinking turns into problem drinking.
The mental health treatment of veterans in the U.S. has also been a long-debated subject. Many experts say veterans do not get the care they need in order to deal with the things that they have witnessed during war time and to cope with PTSD. Veterans who do not receive proper care are more likely to turn to a coping device, such as alcohol, to deal with their experiences. Increases in drinking amongst the veteran population has shown several major consequences, including:
- Bar fights
- Drunk driving
- Domestic Violence
- Increased rates of homicide
As soldiers return from war, drinking amongst the military population goes up, and, without proper care, its a hard trend to manage.
As stated before, the baby boomer generation born between the mid-1940s and mid-1960s are the first generation with a higher likelihood of becoming binge- or problem-drinkers. The fact that the oldest members of this generation have started to reach their 60s has sparked an upward trend in problem-drinking amongst U.S. seniors.
Like every other group in the country, baby boomers are facing great financial strain due to the economy, resulting in prolonged working lives and later retirements, and may use alcohol to cope. People with ingrained habits of alcohol use over a lifetime may also simply keep drinking, despite the fact that alcohol has a greater impact on the brains of older adults.
These boomers also grew up during a period when alcohol use was at its highest and most accepted, so they enter retirement age with different attitudes toward drinking than the generations who came before them.
The last major group that is adding to the rise of alcohol addiction in the U.S. in underage youth. The increase in alcohol use by teenagers is part of an overall increase in drug-use within the population.
Increased instances of alcohol use is only part of the youth trend. The ages at which teenagers are trying alcohol are decreasing, with 14 being the average age of first use, and the reasons for drinking are altering. A majority of teens still drinking just for fun, but a greater number of teens have turned to alcohol to deal with stress at school or home. These numbers are worrisome since people who begin using alcohol prior to age 15 have much higher instances of alcohol abuse later in life.
It is estimated that nine million youth in the U.S. need treatment for alcohol-related problems, but only two million are receiving treatment and only 200,000 are getting sufficient help.
Drinking in the U.S. has not shown the growth patterns of previous decades, but the growth patterns shown are alarming. Women have a lower tolerance for alcohol naturally, older adults are more prone to alcohol-related brain disturbances, problem-drinking increases crime and violence in the military, and as more teenagers use alcohol at young ages, the number of adult problem-drinkers increases overall.
Stemming the upward trends of alcohol addiction in the U.S. requires getting these vulnerable groups the help they need, so that problem-drinking does not lead to alcohol-related illnesses or accidents. Rehabilitation is for everyone, but since adult men have historically had higher rates of alcohol abuse, they dominate the American idea of what an alcohol abuser looks like. Women-only, youth and senior alcohol treatment programs do exist throughout the U.S., though. Stemming the trends of alcohol addiction in the U.S. may simply be a matter of pairing problem-drinkers in vulnerable groups with the right program.