Study show increase in alcohol abuse in US is a costly problem

5942e8a02a08e.imageA recently published study reports a 49 percent increase in alcohol abuse in the U.S. that is costing society an estimated $250 billion per year.

Nearly 13 percent of adults now meet the criteria for alcohol abuse disorder, according to the study published Aug. 9 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study examined data collected from about 80,000 adults 18 years and older who participated in two separate surveys: one from 2001-02 and the other from 2012-13.

It found incidences of heavy or problematic drinking increased the most among women (an 84 percent increase over 11 years), blacks (a 93 percent increase), people aged 45 years to 64 years (82 percent increase) and those 65 years or older (107 percent increase).

Those identified with alcohol use disorders were reported likely to carry health care costs linked to disorders associated with histories of heavy drinking, according to the study, which defined high-risk drinking as five drinks per occasion weekly for men and four for women.

Breaking up the family
In Lancaster County, the rise in the number of Medicaid patients receiving treatment for alcohol abuse disorder more than tripled from 2002 to 2016, according to Rick Kastner, the executive director of the county’s drug and alcohol commission.

“In 2002, Medicaid funded the alcohol treatment for 294 patients,” Kastner said. “By 2016, there were 1,033 Medicaid clients seeking treatment for alcohol abuse disorder.

“Alcoholism and and drugs can be blamed for the breakup of the family, an increase in the caseload to the children and youth system, an increase in the prison system and an increase in domestic violence,” Kastner said.
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According to the study, the annual cost to society for alcohol-related problems was estimated at $250 billion. The study’s authors noted, however, that it may be too early to identify future costs related to high rates of problematic drinking and alcohol use disorders because most do not become apparent for years after heavier drinking begins.

The authors did point to studies that have shown it is possible to decrease the risk for future alcohol-related problems in 18-year-old students by focusing on risk factors for heavy drinking. They also mentioned studies that identified programs that helped diminish drinking during pregnancy and others that have shown significant reductions in alcohol consumption after treatment.

More people seeking treatment
Alcohol used to be the most abused substance in Lancaster County, Kastner said, but at some point it was surpassed by opioids as the No. 1 drug of choice.

“In 2002, there were 206 Medicaid clients being treated for opioid use disorder,” Kastner said. “By 2016 there were 2,316.”

Kastner said Medicaid clients treated for alcohol abuse increased from 294 in 2002 to 1,033 in 2016.

But the increase in the number of people being treated can’t be strictly interpreted as all due to the rise of alcoholism, Kastner said.

“You kind of peel away the onion on the data and you find that more people are covered by Medicaid in the last four years, and now there’s less stigma, so more people are seeking treatment,” Kastner said. “There are many factors involved in the final result.”

Costs for all drug and alcohol treatment grew dramatically in Lancaster County in the past four years, according to Kastner. He said Medicaid paid for $8 million in all drug and alcohol Medicaid treatments in 2012 and $15.5 million in 2016.

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