Drinking too much can sneak up on you. In women, four drinks in a span of two hours, for example, is considered binge drinking (that's two sake bombs). And as it turns out, for every year since 2013, 32 million Americans reported drinking at increasingly dangerous levels.
A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine today calculated an increase in drinking over the past decade, escalating from 31 percent to 39.6 percent of adults drinking five or more drinks in two hours. The problem is especially rampant among college-age Americans, with 49 percent of men and 30 percent of women consuming two or three times over the binge threshold. To make matters worse, drug use can compound a drinking problem, and America is in the grips of a drug epidemic. While the relationship between something like opioid addiction and alcoholism is fuzzy, the people vulnerable to abusing drugs are also vulnerable to abusing alcohol, according to the National Institutes of Health. Some people may even use alcohol to come down from a stimulant high after using drugs like ritalin.
"This kind of poly-substance use disorder is seen very prominently among young people," said Dr. Marc Galanter, director of the NYU Langone Medical Center Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.
It's hard to say what is causing more people to drink in the US, but it seems to be a confluence of access, economic stress, and lifestyle. And it's hitting all kinds of communities: Galanter told me young people and women, especially, are drinking more.
This public health problem has life-threatening consequences. "Of the nearly 90,000 people who die from alcohol each year, more than half, or 50,000, die from injuries and overdoses associated with high blood alcohol levels," said George F. Koob, director of National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in a statement.
Galanter, who said he has seen the growing number of alcohol abuse cases in his own research and practice, said the interventions for drug abuse and alcoholism are different. They need to be tailored to young people—as young as middle school.
"Recently I was treating a parent of a 12-year-old kid who went to parties with her friends, hiding vodka in her coat," he said. "She ended up in the emergency room with an alcohol overdose."
With the opioid epidemic tearing apart communities across the country, and alcoholism becoming commonplace, it's clear that we have to do a better job curbing all substance abuse. And we will have to start earlier than ever before.
Subscribe to Science Solved It , Motherboard's new show about the greatest mysteries that were solved by science.