With the National Institutes of Health facing significant budget cuts, some researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism (NIAAA) have authored a study that claims that while shipments of beer, America’s alcohol drink of choice, have been falling year after year after year, alcohol use increased 11.2%, high risk drinking surged nearly 30% and alcohol use disorder soared 49.4% in the last 10 years.
Those rates of increase sound much worse than the actual numbers. For instance, while the study finds “high-risk drinking increased almost 30%,” the actual increase was just 2.9 percentage points.
Not only that, but one conclusion – that abusive drinking by women increased dramatically – is directly contradicted by the largest federal study, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. That study finds that among adults 18 and over, 4.6% of women had an alcohol use disorder (meaning dependence or abuse) in 2002. In 2012, that percentage had fallen to 4.2% — a 9% decrease.
NSDUH also found that among men, alcohol use fell even more dramatically – to 8.4% from 11.5%. Among the total population, alcohol use disorder fell to 6.2% from 7.9% in 2002, NSDUH found. That’s a 22% reduction.
“While any amount of alcohol abuse is too much, the claims published in JAMA Psychiatry do not comport with findings of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the federal government’s leading survey that tracks substance use disorders,” said Dr. Sam Zakhari, Senior Vice President of Science at the Distilled Spirits Council and former division director of NIAAA.
“The NSDUH shows a decline in alcohol use disorders among all age groups,” said Zakhari.
The study used a survey – NIAAA’s National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol & Related Conditions —— — that covered 36309 persons in 2012-13.
That’s a little more than half the 67,500 Americans surveyed for the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
NSDUH has been conducted since 1971, and the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration calls it “the primary source for statistical information on illicit drug use, alcohol use, substance use disorders (SUDs), and mental health issues for the civilian, noninstitutionalized population of the U.S.”
There’s another problem: The JAMA Psychiatry study “oversampled black and Hispanic individuals and young adults.”
The study and an accompanying editorial argue the JAMA Psychiatry study “make a compelling case the U.S. is facing a crisis with alcohol use.”
We think “crisis” is a vastly overworked word. North Korea’s firing of ICBM’s may be a crisis. We don’t think an increase in alcohol use disorder – if there is an increase – is a crisis. The real crisis, at least for the authors who work at NIAAA, may be the prospect of reduced funding per President Trump’s proposed budget.
That’s a point explicitly made in the editorial, which cited “the proposed cuts to the National Institutes of Health budget being considered in Washington in 2017,” saying the cuts “are potentially disastrous for future efforts to decrease alcohol problems and are likely to result in higher costs for us all. Efforts to identify risk factors for substance-related problems and to test prevention approaches take time and money and are less likely to be funded in the current financial atmosphere.
“If the proposed budget prevails, the National Institutes of Health will have serious problems keeping current research going, and it will be difficult or even impossible to fund new research.”
That would be a special worry for the editorial author, who is a professor in the University of California San Diego psychiatry department.
“In addition, most of the problems raised here will escalate further if as many as 23 million people lose health care benefits under a plan passed by the House of Representatives.”
Looking at the population groups the NIAAA study found experiencing alcohol use disorders — African-American individuals (a 92.8% increase in AUDs), individuals aged 45 years to 64 years and 65 years and older (with 81.5% and 106.7% increases in AUDs, respectively), those with only high school educations (a 57.8% increase in AUDs), and individuals with incomes less than $20 000 (a 65.9% increase in AUDs) – what struck us is that these are the precise group hammered by the Great Recession, the same groups that voted for Donald Trump in hopes that he would rebuild the American middle class.