Alcohol Use: A Local Problem

Alcohol use in US counties varied significantly

(RxWiki News) Excessive alcohol use is a public health issue. To make a difference — especially for problems like binge drinking — it’s helpful to identify where and how big the problem is.

A new study did just that by looking at alcohol use by county in each state. This study found wide variances in alcohol use — not only in large areas of each state, but in counties that were side by side.

The authors of this study said public health and government officials should use targeted data to develop alcohol intervention programs. Health risks of excessive drinking can include liver and heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer.

"Traditionally, men in our country consume more alcohol than women," said David Winter, MD, chief clinical officer, president and chairman of the board of Baylor Health Care System's HealthTexas Provider Network, in an interview with dailyRx News. "What is alarming about this study is that, although still less than men overall, the prevalence of heavy and binge drinking is increasing faster in women than in men ... Heavy drinking of alcohol is a major risk factor for illness and death. Education and interventions to reduce heavy drinking in men and women are clearly needed."

Laura Dwyer-Lindgren, MPH, of the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle, led this study.

Dwyer-Lindgren and colleagues used data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a nationwide phone survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data from the BRFSS was used to estimate the prevalence of alcohol use, heavy drinking and binge drinking in each county of each state.

Data on any drinking and binge drinking covered the period from 2002 to 20012. Data on heavy drinking covered the period from 2005 to 2012.

These surveys asked about any alcohol use, number of drinks on a given day or within a week and the amount of alcohol consumed. A drink was defined as one can or bottle of beer or wine cooler, one glass of wine, one cocktail or one shot of liquor.

Dwyer-Lindgren and team classified heavy drinkers as women who drank more than one drink per day and men who drank more than two drinks a day. Binge drinking for women was defined as four or more drinks on one occasion. For men, five or more drinks on one occasion was considered binge drinking.

In 2012, Dwyer-Lindgren and team found that drinking prevalence varied from 11 to 78.7 percent in different counties. Drinking prevalence at the national level was 56 percent.

Heavy drinking prevalence ranged from 3.4 to 22.4 percent. Binge drinking ranged from 5.9 to 36 percent.

Both heavy and binge drinking prevalence increased in most counties from 2005 to 2012. Heavy drinking prevalence was 8.2 percent. Binge drinking prevalence was 18.3 percent.

Heavy drinking and binge drinking increased more for women over the same period than for men.

Dwyer-Lindgren and colleagues recommend targeted interventions according to individual county findings.

“We found that although the overall prevalence of any drinking has not changed substantially in recent years, there is evidence of an increase in both heavy drinking and binge drinking," these researchers wrote.

Dwyer-Lindgren and team added, "Similarly, we found that increases in heavy and binge drinking prevalence in recent years have tended to be larger for women than for men, although women have not yet caught up to men in terms of current prevalence. These findings call for interventions intended specifically to address this increase among women.”

This study was published in the April issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Washington state and the University of Wisconsin funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
April 27, 2015