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article imageStudy: Bad economy equals more drinking

By Elizabeth Cunningham Perkins     Oct 14, 2011 in Science
Previous studies have found that health improved during economic downturns, possibly because unemployment meant fewer funds available for behaviors that could harm health, like excessive drinking. But new research has suggested the opposite may be true.
A study by University of Miami health economist Michael T. French and colleagues and collaborators from the University of Colorado concluded heavy drinking, as well as alcohol abuse and dependence, increase significantly during periods of deteriorating macroeconomic conditions, ScienceDaily reported about the team's research findings that have been published in the journal Health Economics.
As state-levels of unemployment rose, so did binge drinking, driving intoxicated and alcohol dependency and abuse, for men and women of all ethnic groups, according to French and his team, who analyzed National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) data sets that measured alcohol consumption, abuse and dependence in detail from 2001 to 2005, the most recent data that corresponded to existing studies.
Because many economists have predicted unemployment in the United States is likely to remain higher than it was during pre-downturn years for years to come, these research findings should be taken into consideration by policy makers and health care service providers, French asserted, stating,
"The study is timely, technically advanced, and original. We are one of the first to show that, even though incomes decline for most people during an economic downtown, they still increase problematic or risky drinking."
The researchers found unemployed and employed people alike binge drink more often and are more likely to drive while intoxicated when the economy is bad, and French explained this might be because,
"...even though employed individuals have a job, they could be affected psychologically (e.g., fear of losing their job) from an economic downturn, leading them to have more drinking days and driving under the influence episodes as the state-level unemployment rate increases."
The team also found: those with higher education levels tended to binge-drink more; both being married and having more kids reduced alcohol abuse and dependence; and all population subgroups drank more as the unemployment rate increased, with the largest binge-drinking effects displayed by people 18 to 24 years old and by African-Americans.
In related news, Digital Journal reported in April that a separate study by researchers from the University of Otago, Christchurch in Australia found longer working hours increased alcohol-related problems and alcohol abuse.
More about Alcohol, Alcoholism, alcohol consumption, Bad economy, Economics