Study on Rising Alcoholism in America Receives Flak for Using ‘Compromised Data’

A study which chillingly lays bare the “public health crisis” that arose over a decade in the United States because of excessive alcohol consumption has received severe criticism for relying on comprised data to arrive at that conclusion. It has been criticized by some experts and the Distilled Spirits Council (DSC) for being less consistent, and for not including young adults aged below 18 years, who are increasingly taking to alcohol in America.

The study was sponsored by federal agencies, such as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and relied on data provided by the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcoholism and Related Conditions (NESARC) for the period 2001-02 and 2012-13. During the course of the study, participants were analyzed for problematic drinking and alcohol use disorder (AUD).

High-risk drinking was measured against four standard drinks (1 standard drink=14 grams of pure alcohol). The researchers found that in the gap of 11 years, between the passage of the first NESARC evaluation and the second, there was a substantial increase in 12-month drinking, high-risk drinking, and AUD, especially among women, older adults, racial/ethnic minorities, and the socioeconomically disadvantaged.

The cases of high-risk drinking rose from 8.5 percent in 2001 to 12.7 percent in 2013, a spike of 49.4 percent, indicating that nearly 30 million Americans are under the spell of alcohol. Overall, alcohol use increased from 65.4 percent to 72.7 percent whereas high-risk drinking increased by 29.9 percent.

The overall increase in AUD in various subgroups over 11 years is as under:

  • Women: 83.7 percent
  • African Americans: 92.8 percent
  • Middle-aged adults (45-64 years): 81.5 percent
  • Elderly people (65 and older): 106.7 percent
  • High school educated people: 57.8 percent
  • Employees with salary less than $20,000: 65.9 percent

NSDUH data more methodological

In sharp contrast, another study conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), revealed that the alcoholism graph instead of peaking in the said period had declined. It stated that while in 2002, 7.7 percent of Americans aged 12 and older were under the spell of alcohol, 6.6 percent were reportedly addicted to alcohol in 2013. Moreover, NSDUH evaluated individuals 12 years and older whereas NESARC’s survey considered only those aged 18 and above.

Another apparent flaw in the NESARC study was related to the fact that no biological samples were collected in the first round, though an attempt was made to collect saliva specimens in the second wave. Also, as most of the study participants were informed beforehand that they would be tested for drug use, chances are that they responded differently. NESARC respondents were also given monetary rewards in 2012-13, which was not the case in the first wave. This could have influenced their responses.

Richard Grucza, associate professor in the department of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine, compared the methodologies of both the surveys and said, “The NSDUH methods are much more consistent from year-to-year, and it is administered annually. So I tend to put more weight on NSDUH data.”

Alcohol is a dangerous addiction

High alcohol consumption continues to be a serious concern. Every year, thousands of people succumb to alcohol-related problems, including accidents, unintentional injuries, suicides and homicides. Devising more effective preventive policies, increasing public awareness programs, and making health care facilities accessible to all is the need of the hour.