Alarming Recent Findings on Alcohol Use and Alcohol-Related Issues

According to a new study, alcohol use worldwide continues to increase with no indication that the concerning trend will reverse. In the U.S., excess alcohol consumption is the fourth leading preventable cause of death. Study author Jakob Manthey from the Technical University of Dresden, Germany, analyzed data from 189 countries and found that in nearly 30 years, as of 2017, the total volume of alcohol consumed annually rose by a shocking 70%. Experts estimate that by 2030, 50% of adults will consume alcohol, with nearly a quarter of them binge drinking at least once a month. Manthey notes that “Before 1990, most alcohol was consumed in high-income countries, with the highest use levels recorded in Europe. However, this pattern has changed substantially, with large reductions across Eastern Europe and vast increases in several middle-income countries such as China, India, and Vietnam.”

The data reveals that the world will likely fall short of the alcohol reduction goal recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2018. According to WHO, one in 20 deaths in 2016 was linked to alcohol use, a number totaling over 3 million individuals. Based on his findings, Manthey predicts, “alcohol use will remain one of the leading risk factors for the burden of disease for the foreseeable future, and its impact will probably increase relative to other risk factors.”

This information is especially troubling given that another recent study revealed alcohol use plays a part in bullying, especially among females. Specifically, weight-based bullying was linked to higher levels of adolescent alcohol and marijuana use, with overweight girls reporting the highest rate of harassment. Study author Melanie Klinck from the University of Connecticut found that adolescents bullied about their body weight or shape face a greater risk of substance abuse versus non-teased peers. According to Klinck, “This type of bullying is incredibly common and has many negative effects for adolescents. The combination of appearance-related teasing and the increased sensitivity to body image during adolescence may create a heightened risk for substance use.” Study co-author Christine McCauley Ohannessian noted, “These findings raise larger issues about how society places too much emphasis on beauty and body image for girls and women and the damaging effects that may result.”

If you think that this type of bullying happens mainly at school or among peers, think again. Eye-opening research reveals that some of the most damaging weight-based bullying emanates at home, with siblings and parents major offenders. A study surveyed more than 1,344 students who were asked if peers, siblings or parents had made negative comments about their weight, eating or body shape in the past six months. Over half of the respondents responded in the affirmative, including the majority (76%) of overweight girls and overweight males (71%). Also concerning is the revelation that over half (52%) of girls who weren’t overweight, and 43% of males who weren’t overweight, also reported body shaming. “The old saying that ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ is a fallacy that ignores the serious effects of emotional abuse and verbal bullying,” according to one of the study researchers. “Weight-based discrimination appears to be one of the most common and seemingly socially sanctioned reasons to bully or discriminate against someone. As a society, we need to address the damage caused by this, especially for girls.” Researchers concluded that frequent weight-based bullying was linked to increased levels of alcohol use including binge drinking, as well as marijuana use. 

New data also shows that one doesn’t have to drink to feel the negative impact of alcohol use. Researchers at Purdue University and the Indiana University School of Medicine have demonstrated that having a parent with an alcohol use disorder modifies the ability of one’s brain to move between resting and active states. Normally, after completing a challenging task, the brain transitions to a resting state. This is not the case for the brain of someone with a family history of alcohol use disorder. What the researchers found was that among this group of subjects, the all-important brain shift didn’t happen.

You can think of this brain reconfiguration between active and resting states as similar to the way in which your computer shuts down a program after you close it. Participants without this brain switch showed greater impatience waiting for rewards, a behavior associated with addiction. This group displayed other traits linked to risk factors for alcoholism, including a greater number of symptoms of depression, but the most statistically significant difference was a family history of alcoholism. An individual does not have to consume alcohol to bear the negative effects of substance abuse. Just having a history of alcoholism in one’s family may cause differences in how well their brains function.

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