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Economic Downturn Linked to Increased Alcohol Consumption

Substance abuse is rooted in both biological and environmental causes. While genetics play a clear role, not everyone with a specific genetic makeup will develop a dependence. Likewise, not everyone with another risk factor, such as a romantic partner that drinks heavily, will also develop an alcohol-related problem. Often a combination of both a genetic predisposition and particular circumstances work together to form an alcohol use disorder. In many situations, that environmental catalyst is some form of stress. 

A recent study looked into the the impact of stress on drinking behaviors in the form of  the 2008-2009 U.S. recession, which resulted in some individuals struggling to pay bills and keep their jobs. The researchers looked at several types of economic stress, including loss of retirement savings, loss of job or reduced hours or wages, as well as difficulty obtaining or maintaining adequate housing and their relationship to alcohol-related problems.

The findings revealed that such circumstances most affect men and middle-aged Americans and lead to increased levels of alcohol consumption.

Nina Mulia, a scientist with the Alcohol Research Group of the Public Health Institute and lead author, explained that the findings add to a body of research that recognizes the impact of economic downturns on a variety of mental health conditions. Mulia cites a 2009 study that demonstrated a connection between the rise of unemployment and higher suicide rates in those under age 65.

The new study’s findings are important because they help experts to understand the impact of economic shocks on the mental health of individuals. Laura A. Schmidt, a professor of health policy at UCSF School of Medicine, says that economic stress impacts the state of mind of a person and can result in increased drinking.

The authors of the study note that there has been a general lowering of the price of alcohol in recent years. Low prices may allow individuals who are under a lot of stress to self-medicate against the fears and stress they are experiencing.

Mulia says that the study is unique in its focus on an individual’s economic loss as well as various types of alcohol-related patterns and problems. In contrast to other studies that focus on unemployment and drinking, this study focused on multiple types of economic loss and various forms of impact with alcohol-related behaviors.

The researchers used information from the 2009-2010 U.S. National Alcohol Survey, which included 5,382 individuals. There were 3,445 females and 1,937 males enrolled.

The researchers analyzed the data according to gender and age groups, controlling for demographic characteristics and sociodemographic variables, and connected economic loss and total alcohol consumed over the past 12 months. The team also looked at drunkenness, alcohol dependence and negative drinking consequences to measure alcohol-related problems.

The findings highlight the increased risk of alcohol-related problems for those that are experiencing personal economic difficulties. More research may be necessary to understand the connection and the motivations leading to alcohol purchases in an economic downturn.

The findings may also lead to targeted education and prevention efforts for individuals that have lost their job or had another personal economic challenge.

There is still hope.

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