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New Study Says Alcohol Consumption Goes Up in a Down Economy

In the September 12, 2011, on-line edition of the journal Health Economics, a research study from the University of Miami discovered that heavy binge drinking as well as alcohol abuse and dependence increase as US macroeconomic conditions worsen at the state level. The study, led by health economist Michael French, found that binge drinking increased with a rise in individual state unemployment rates. Other alcohol-related events such as driving while intoxicated, alcohol abuse and dependence also increased across ethnic groups and for both men and women as state-level unemployment rose to higher levels (Easing the Pain of an Economic Downturn - Macroeconomic Conditions and Excessive Alcohol Consumption).

The researchers analyzed data from 2001 to 2005, the most recent time period comparable to existing studies. Measures of alcohol consumption examined in the current study but not in earlier studies included alcohol abuse and dependence. In addition to observing increases in measures of alcohol consumption among the unemployed, the study also showed that even individuals with gainful employment have more binge drinking days in a down economy and are thus more likely to drive while under the influence. The authors attributed this result to psychological effects such as fear of losing one's job due to the economic downturn.

The University of Miami researchers also found that all population subgroups in the study showed an increase in excessive alcohol consumption as statewide unemployment rates worsened. African-Americans and 18 to 24 year olds displayed the largest binge drinking effect.  Also, binge drinking was more common as the educational level and individual income increased. The study's findings suggest that alcohol abuse programs should prepare for an increased need in their services during an economic downturn.

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