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Alcohol and Adults

Alcohol is the most widely abused drug among adults, especially among young adults. According to the 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, one in three adults aged 18 to 25 are binge drinkers (at least five drinks at a time). Rates of binge drinking and heavy drinking (binging at least five times a month) are consistently higher among men than women. For example, 43 percent of men aged 18 to 25 are binge drinkers, compared to 21 percent of women. However, this gap may be closing; drinking rates are increasing much faster for teenage girls than for boys.

Problems on the Job


Eighty-five percent of heavy drinkers in the United States are employed—about 10 million people. 35 Many more employees drink to a lesser degree. A common misconception among employers is that alcoholics are responsible for most of the workplace problems related to alcohol.36 However, according to the 1998 Corporate Alcohol Study by the Harvard School of Public Health, light and moderate drinkers cause 60 percent of alcohol-related incidents of absenteeism, tardiness and poor quality of work, while dependent drinkers cause 40 percent. 37The impact of even small amounts of alcohol on work performance is well-known. For example, commercial airlines prohibit their pilots from flying within 24 hours of consuming any alcohol. 38

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates that lost productivity due to drinking costs nearly $70 billion each year. 39These estimates do not include the "secondhand" effects of alcohol use. The Harvard study found one in five workers report being injured, having to cover for a co-worker, or needing to work harder due to other employees' drinking. 40 Nearly one-third of workers who consider their jobs to be dangerous report experiencing "secondhand" alcohol effects. 41

The Harvard study suggests that companies should educate all employees about the effects of occasional excessive drinking (or any drinking during the workday) on job performance. Half of employees surveyed in the study supported random alcohol testing during the workday; nearly three-quarters of employees in manufacturing or transportation jobs supported testing. 42

Employer Intervention


Many employers offer employee assistance programs (EAPs) designed to promote healthy lifestyles for workers. An estimated 20,000 EAPs exist nationwide. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, for every dollar invested in an EAP, employers can save $5-$16.

Many companies do not have alcohol policies; those that do may not enforce them effectively. Nearly 60 percent of managers and supervisors say their companies are "tough" on illicit drugs but "soft" on alcohol; 80 percent say they have inadequate training in how to address employee performance problems. 43 More managers (23 percent) and supervisors (11 percent) actually report drinking during the workday and at company functions than do other employees (8 percent), which may contribute to a corporate culture that encourages drinking. 44

According to a 1998 Peter Hart Poll, employers often encounter denial (75 percent) and anger (42 percent) when they approach workers about alcohol problems. However, mandatory referral to treatment and the risk of job loss are strong motivations for treatment compliance. 45 A 1996 study by the Pennsylvania Veterans Administration Center for Studies of Addiction found that employees who are required to enter alcohol treatment programs tend to perform as well in treatment as employees who voluntarily seek it. 46 Drinking dropped 74 percent after six months of "coerced" treatment and 78 percent after six months of "self-referred."

Even when alcohol programs are available, many employees do not take advantage of them. 47 Employers can encourage participation by informing employees about the confidentiality of programs designed to help workers deal with alcohol and other drug problems. Increased public education focused on treatment successes may encourage more participation in alcohol interventions among both employers and employees. 48

Children of Alcoholics

At least 11 million of the nation's children live in households with an alcoholic parent. 49 According to NIAAA, these children are four times more likely than others to develop alcoholism in later life. 50 Research consistently shows that genes play a role in the development of alcoholism, particularly among men. Those carrying a genetic risk for alcoholism do not inevitably develop the disorder; however, it may make youngsters more susceptible to the environmental stressors which contribute to alcoholism. 51 Families of alcoholics are characterized by marital instability, lack of emotional support, poor discipline and family conflict. 52 Children of alcoholics are more susceptible to alcohol cravings and have less effective biological responses to stress, both of which can make them more likely to become alcoholics themselves, according to a 1998 Johns Hopkins University study. 53

College Binge Drinking

An increasing number of college students are drinking to get drunk. According to the 1997 College Alcohol Study conducted by Harvard University researchers, more than half of college students (52 percent) say they drink to get drunk, compared to 39 percent in 1993. 54Two in five college students nationwide binge drink (defined as five or more drinks at a time); one in five binge at least once a week. 55

Each year, college students spend approximately $5.5 billion on alcohol—more than they spend on soft drinks, milk, juice, tea, coffee and books combined. 56

There is some good news on campus: in 1997, 19 percent of college students abstained from drinking, up from 16 percent in 1993. 57 However, students who abstain are still vulnerable to "secondhand" effects of drinking. On campuses with significant binge drinking activity, 90 percent of students report being pushed, hit or assaulted; experiencing an unwanted sexual advance; or otherwise being bothered by the alcohol-related behavior of other students. 58

Students who binge drink are more likely than non-drinkers to be in trouble with campus authorities, experience injuries and display poor academic performance. 59 Frequent binge drinkers are five times more likely than non-binge drinkers to engage in unplanned sexual activity and not to use protection. 60 In a national 1997 George Mason University College Alcohol Survey, school administrators estimated alcohol played a role in 75 percent of acquaintance rapes. 61

Binge drinking is commonplace in fraternities and sororities. Four in five resident members are binge drinkers, compared to two in five students in the general college population. The trend is leading some Greek organizations to change their alcohol policies. For example, half of Phi Delta Theta fraternity affiliates nationwide have outlawed drinking in their houses.

College athletes are also more likely to drink heavily than other students. The Harvard College Alcohol Study found close to two-thirds of male college athletes are binge drinkers, 62 as are half of female college athletes. 63 Although student athletes drink more than other students, they smoke less. Researchers point out that athletes view smoking as harmful to their performance, while the same perception may not hold for drinking. 64

In January 1998, Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala called for colleges to sever the tie between college sports and drinking by following these guidelines:
? No alcohol advertising on the premises of an intercollegiate athletic event;
? No bringing alcohol to the site of an event;
? No turning a blind eye to underage drinking at tailgate parties and on campus; and
? No alcohol sponsorship of intercollegiate sporting events.

35. 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, NIAAA, 1999.

36 . Thomas W. Mangione, Jonathan Howland and Marianne Lee, "New Perspectives for Worksite Alcohol Strategies: Results from a Corporate Drinking Study." Funded by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, December 1998.

37 . Thomas W. Mangione, Jonathan Howland and Marianne Lee, "New Perspectives for Worksite Alcohol Strategies: Results from a Corporate Drinking Study." Funded by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, December 1998.

38 . Thomas W. Mangione, Jonathan Howland and Marianne Lee, "New Perspectives for Worksite Alcohol Strategies: Results from a Corporate Drinking Study." Funded by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, December 1998.

39 . "The Economic Costs of Alcohol and Drug Abuse in the United States, 1992." National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, May 1998.

40 . Thomas W. Mangione, Jonathan Howland and Marianne Lee, "New Perspectives for Worksite Alcohol Strategies: Results from a Corporate Drinking Study." Funded by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, December 1998.

41 . Thomas W. Mangione, Jonathan Howland and Marianne Lee, "New Perspectives for Worksite Alcohol Strategies: Results from a Corporate Drinking Study." Funded by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, December 1998.

42 . Thomas W. Mangione, Jonathan Howland and Marianne Lee, "New Perspectives for Worksite Alcohol Strategies: Results from a Corporate Drinking Study." Funded by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, December 1998.

43 . Thomas W. Mangione, Jonathan Howland and Marianne Lee, "New Perspectives for Worksite Alcohol Strategies: Results from a Corporate Drinking Study." Funded by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, December 1998.

44 . Thomas W. Mangione, Jonathan Howland and Marianne Lee, "New Perspectives for Worksite Alcohol Strategies: Results from a Corporate Drinking Study." Funded by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, December 1998.

45 . Eli Lewantal et al., "Coerced Treatment for Substance Abuse Problems Detected Through Workplace Urine Surveillance: Is it Effective?" Journal of Substance Abuse, 8(1):115-128, 1996.

46 . Eli Lewantal et al., "Coerced Treatment for Substance Abuse Problems Detected Through Workplace Urine Surveillance: Is it Effective?" Journal of Substance Abuse, 8(1):115-128, 1996.

47 . "Survey Shows Alcohol/Drug Use Has Strong Impact on Workplace." Center City, MN: Hazelden Foundation, Oct. 22, 1996.

48 . "The Road to Recovery: A National Landmark Study on Public Perceptions of Alcoholism and Barriers to Treatment." San Francisco, CA: The Recovery Institute, 1998.

49 . Hoover Adger, Jr, Donald Ian McDonald and Sis Wenger, Introduction and Comments from Pediatrics, 103(5):ix, 1999.

50 . Deborah A. Ellis, Robert A. Zucker and Hiram E. Fitzgerald, "The Role of Family Influences in Development and Risk."Alcohol Health and Research World, NIAAA, 21(3):218-226, 1997.

51 . Matt McGue, "A Behavioral-Genetic Perspective on Children of Alcoholics." Alcohol Health Research World, NIAAA, 21(3):210-217, 1997.

52 . Theodore Jacob and Sheri Johnson, "Parenting Influences on the Development of Alcohol Abuse and Dependence." Alcohol Health and Research World, NIAAA, 21(3):204-209, 1997.

53 . G.S. Wand, D. Mangold, S. El Diery, M.E. McCaul and D. Hoover, "Family history of alcoholism and hypothalamic opioidergic activity." Archives of General Psychiatry, 55(12):1114-9, 1998.

54 . Henry Wechsler et al., "Changes in Binge Drinking and Related Problems Among American College Students Between 1993 and 1997: Results of the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study." Journal of American College Health. 47:57-68, 1998.

55 . Henry Wechsler et al., "Changes in Binge Drinking and Related Problems Among American College Students Between 1993 and 1997: Results of the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study." Journal of American College Health. 47:57-68, 1998.

56 . "Alcohol Practices, Policies, and Potentials of American Colleges and Universities: A White Paper." U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Substance Abuse Prevention, September, 1991.

57 . Henry Wechsler et al., "Changes in Binge Drinking and Related Problems Among American College Students Between 1993 and 1997: Results of the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study." Journal of American College Health. 47:57-68, 1998.

58 . Henry Wechsler et al., "Changes in Binge Drinking and Related Problems Among American College Students Between 1993 and 1997: Results of the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study." Journal of American College Health. 47:57-68, 1998.

59 . Henry Wechsler et al., "Changes in Binge Drinking and Related Problems Among American College Students Between 1993 and 1997: Results of the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study." Journal of American College Health. 47:57-68, 1998.

60 . Henry Wechsler et al., "Changes in Binge Drinking and Related Problems Among American College Students Between 1993 and 1997: Results of the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study." Journal of American College Health. 47:57-68, 1998.

61 . David Anderson, "College Alcohol Survey." Fairfax, VA: George Mason University, 1997.

62 . Henry Wechsler et al., "Changes in Binge Drinking and Related Problems Among American College Students Between 1993 and 1997: Results of the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study." Journal of American College Health. 47:57-68, 1998.

63 . Henry Wechsler et al., "Binge Drinking, Tobacco and Illicit Drug Use and Involvement in College Athletics: A Survey of Students at 140 American Colleges." Journal of American College Health. 45:195-200, 1997.

64. Henry Wechsler et al., "Binge Drinking, Tobacco and Illicit Drug Use and Involvement in College Athletics: A Survey of Students at 140 American Colleges." Journal of American College Health. 45:195-200, 1997.

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