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Americans Are Drinking More, and Here's Why

Seems there's a cultural change, and no 'policy response to match it'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 14, 2020 1:30 PM CST

(Newser) – Americans are drinking more now than when Prohibition was enacted. What's more, it's been rising for two decades, and it's not clear when it will fall again. That’s the picture painted by federal health statistics, which show a rise in per-person consumption and increases in emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and deaths tied to drinking, the AP reports. The stats aren't all bad. Drinking among teenagers is down. And there are signs that some people are taking alcohol seriously. But overall, it's not good: "Consumption has been going up. Harms (from alcohol) have been going up," said Dr. Tim Naimi, an alcohol researcher at Boston University. “And there's not been a policy response to match it." A few facts, including what's behind the rise:

  • History: In the late 1910s, just before Congress banned the sale and manufacture of alcoholic beverages, each American teen and adult was downing just under 2 gallons of alcohol a year on average. These days it’s about 2.3 gallons. Historians say drinking was heaviest in the early 1800s, with estimates that in 1830 the average US adult downed the equivalent of 7 gallons a year.

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  • Prohibition: That waned as the temperance movement pushed for moderation, abstinence and, later, a national ban on the manufacture and sale of alcohol. In 1919, Congress passed the 18th Amendment, instituting the ban. In 1934, a year after Prohibition was repealed, per-capita consumption was under 1 gallon. It’s been up and down since then.
  • The 1980s and '90s: It went down in the mid-1980s, amid growing attention to deaths from drunken driving and after Congress passed a law raising the drinking age to 21. But it began climbing again in the mid-1990s. "I think people sort of forgot all the problems (with alcohol)," says scientist William Kerr.
  • Women: About three-quarters of alcohol-related deaths are in men. But drinking among women—particularly binge drinking—has been a major driver of the increases in alcohol statistics. One study found that the female death rate jumped 85%, while the male rate rose 39%.
  • 'Wine O'Clock': Researchers say there’s been a change in cultural attitudes toward drinking, including among many women. Internet memes popular with stressed-out moms call wine "mommy juice" and joke about it being "wine o'clock."
  • Dangers: Excessive drinking is associated with chronic dangers such as liver cancer, high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. Drinking by pregnant women can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or birth defects. Alcohol is a factor in as many as one-third of serious falls among the elderly, and is a risk to others due to drunken driving and alcohol-fueled violence.
(Read more alcohol stories.)

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