Although alcohol is a legal intoxicant, it’s still a potentially addictive substance that should be used with great care, consideration and moderation. Because alcohol use also varies by age, race and ethnicity, knowing your limits is key to making sure you remain healthy and safe.
There have been a great number of studies examining how much alcohol the typical person drinks and when. As our minds and bodies age, how much alcohol we are able to consume changes. Let’s take a closer look at how adults drink alcohol by age, race or ethnicity, and demographic.
Alcohol Use in the United States
Since the death of prohibition more than 70 years ago, alcohol consumption in the United States has steadily risen. Today’s modern society is one with a bar on every corner. In many states you can now buy hard liquor in grocery stores.
This heavy alcohol consumption by Americans bears a heavy economic burden on society. According to some estimates, issues with alcohol misuse cost the U.S. economy a whopping $223.5 billion a year. Taxpayer dollars cover more than half of the health care costs associated with alcohol misuse.
The same study shows that between federal, state and local governments, excessive alcohol consumption amounts to 42 percent of gross economic costs, or $94 billion. Direct health care costs amounted to 61 percent of the overall total.
What this research shows is that binge drinking equates to binge spending. This holds true not just for the individual and his or her family, but for society as a whole. Now that we know the costs of excessive alcohol consumption, let’s take a look at alcohol consumption by age.
The Dangers of Underage Drinking
Because of its widespread availability and tacit societal approval, alcohol is the drug of choice among the nation’s youth. Alcohol consumption by minors carries a number of seriously acute risks.
Each year, approximately 5,000 young people below the legal drinking age die as a result of excessive alcohol consumption. These deaths come in the form of motor vehicle crashes, homicides, suicides, falls, burns and drownings.
Studies show that people who report drinking before the age of 15 were four times more likely to meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD) later in life. Studies also show that drinking problems usually associated with middle age begin much earlier in life, during young adulthood and sometimes even adolescence.
Other research shows that young children who drink are more likely to engage in harmful behaviors, including unprotected sex, using other drugs and getting into fights. The harmful effects of alcohol are magnified on children who are moving from adolescence to young adulthood.
What’s even scarier is that adolescents may be more inclined to drink for no other reason than that they are adolescents, and here is why:
- Risk-Taking: The brain continues to develop well into your twenties and scientists believe that this lengthy developmental period may explain some of the behavioral characteristics that lead adolescents to drink. For some teens, the thrill-seeking aspect of using alcohol is a major draw.
- Expectancies: How adolescents view drinking directly impacts their desire to drink. Before age 9, children typically view alcohol consumption in a negative light. This view begins to shift by age 13, however. Therefore, it shouldn’t be a surprise that children who drink point to the arousing effects of alcohol as the main reason they drink.
- Sensitivity/Tolerance: The differences between adult and adolescent brains may explain why many young drinkers can drink much more than adults before negative health effects kick in. This higher tolerance may also help explain why there are such high rates of binge drinking among adolescents.
- Personality Traits: Adolescents who begin drinking at a young age share many of the same personality traits. Those at a greater risk for alcohol consumption include children who are disruptive, hyperactive, aggressive, depressed, withdrawn or anxious.
- Hereditary Factors: A person’s risk for alcoholism, and their tolerance level, at times may be directly linked to specific genetic factors. There’s a reason why most alcoholics can point to at least one family member who also drank excessively. Children of alcoholics are between four and 10 times more likely to develop an alcohol addiction than those who don’t have any relatives who drink excessively.
In 2013, an estimated 697,000 adolescents between 12 and 17 years of age had AUD. In the same year, an estimated 73,000 adolescents underwent treatment for alcoholism in a specialized treatment center.
There’s no way around it: These are staggering statistics. Fortunately, potential problems with alcoholism can be staved off by identifying young people who are at greater risk early on in life.
Alcohol Consumption for Adults
If you choose to drink alcohol, there are very specific guidelines to what constitutes moderate and excessive alcohol consumption. Moderate drinking is generally considered to be two drinks per day for men under the age of 65 and one drink per day for women.
For many, these numbers may seem tiny in comparison to how much drinking we see others doing. This causes serious danger to societal health, because these numbers are often surpassed far sooner than you may think.
A study done in Britain followed participants over a 30-year period and found that the peak age of alcohol consumption among those in the study was 25. Although this age represented a peak, it does not mean that the majority of people were suddenly drinking at or below the recommended amount as soon as they hit 26.
A different 2012 study revealed that men aged 55 to 74 consumed an average of 17 units of alcohol per week. For women between the ages of 45 and 54, it was 10.2. As you can see, both statistics come in well above the recommended average.
Although one can make the argument that young adults are more susceptible to alcoholism, once it has set in, the rigors of adulthood promote continued drinking. Adults drink because they can and often because they want to. This drive has a deeper sociological root that age can only account for on one level.
Alcohol Consumption by Race/Ethnicity
It’s no secret that alcohol consumption varies widely by race. Depending on your economic and racial background, you may be more susceptible to problems with excessive drinking.
How we grow up and what environment we are in also contributes to whether or not we will have problems with drinking, either early or later in life. Class divisions and wage depression are large factors in whether or not someone chooses to drink excessively.
The five major races in the United States are:
- African American
- Asian American/Pacific Islander
- American Indian/Alaska Native
Among all races, by raw numbers, Caucasians drink the most, but this statistic is deceiving. Because people of Caucasian origin are the majority ethnicity, that stat is to be expected.
If you take a look at excessive alcohol consumption per capita, however, the numbers are quite different. Excessive drinking is most prevalent among American Indian/Alaska Natives and lowest among Asian American/Pacific Islanders.
Among all age and ethnic groups, men are more likely to drink than women. Men also tend to consume more alcohol in a single sitting than women do. No matter where you come from or what your race, this pattern has been identified throughout the world.
Alcohol Consumption by Geography
While American alcohol consumption might not be exceptional by global standards, there are significant differences depending on what part of the country you’re in. Alcohol consumption varies widely by state and, once explained, the reasons are quite obvious.
The No. 1 state for alcohol consumption is tiny New Hampshire. A fiercely libertarian state, New Hampshire residents consume a whopping 40.8 gallons of alcohol, per person, annually.
The next states in line are North Dakota, Montana, Nevada and Vermont. The consumption numbers for those four states range between 32 and 35 gallons per person per year.
While some of this can be attributed to cross-border sales, as New Hampshire has no sales tax, the primary reason lies in the rural nature of these states. Some studies have shown that alcohol consumption among rural communities far outpaces that of densely packed urban centers.
The states that drink the least are Utah, Kentucky and New York. While Utah is no surprise considering those of the Mormon faith don’t drink alcohol, Kentucky is a bit of a surprise, considering its long history with whiskey and its somewhat rural nature.
Benefits of Moderate Alcohol Consumption
Time and amounts should be the first consideration when drinking alcohol. Always remember that consuming alcohol can lead to a slippery slope effect. Once you start drinking and begin to enjoy drinking as more than just part of a healthful routine, alcoholism becomes a real danger.
While it has been shown that moderate drinking can provide some real health benefits, heavy drinking, no matter the age, comes with serious consequences. Although this may sound like a mixed message, science shows that there is a place for alcohol, albeit a small one.
Research is ongoing, but early results show that the best-known positive health effect of alcohol is the increase of HDL cholesterol, otherwise known as good cholesterol. Alcohol in moderate amounts might also prevent blood platelets from sticking together, which reduces the risk of a potential heart attack or stroke.
One common belief is that a glass of wine is good for heart health. There is some evidence to support that the grape skin contains flavonoids and other antioxidants that help protect the heart and blood vessels from free radicals.
While moderate alcohol use may have positive health effects, it shouldn’t be the means to an end. Promoting good cholesterol and eradicating free radicals can be accomplished through other means that are not addictive. Excessive consumption eliminates any potential benefits of alcohol.
Symptoms of Excessive Alcohol Consumption
Although there are still some questions surrounding the benefits of drinking alcohol, there’s plenty of rock-solid evidence to prove that alcohol consumption is dangerous. Drinking too much alcohol carries with it myriad undesirable health effects.
If you are drinking too much alcohol, you might be susceptible to:
- High level of triglycerides in the blood
- High blood pressure
- Liver disease
- Heart failure
While the incidence of heart disease in moderate drinkers is lower than in nondrinkers, the danger is real. Since it isn’t possible to predict who will have a problem with alcoholism, moderate drinking – despite any health benefits – is a risky proposition.
When is alcohol consumption excessive? There are well-known and generally agreed upon guidelines for what constitutes moderate and excessive drinking.
It can be said that excessive alcohol consumption represents anything beyond the accepted two per day for men and one per day for women. While this is true, excessive alcohol consumption by the National Institute of Health standard is considered to be five or more drinks on the same occasion on each of five or more days in the past 30 days.
In the end, you should only be drinking in moderation without regularity. Once alcohol consumption becomes part of your regular routine, you must be aware that alcoholism is a real danger.
If you or someone you love is suffering from excessive drinking, we can help. To find out how our advanced programs can help you or a loved one release from the grip of excessive drinking, contact 12 Keys today.