A Less Than Happy Country: American Binge Drinking
by Bob Schwartz
The World Happiness Report 2018—“a landmark survey of the state of global happiness [ranking] 156 countries by their happiness levels”—ranks the United States as having dropped to #18, between Luxembourg and the United Kingdom. The happiest place on earth is not Disneyland, but Finland, followed closely by Norway, Denmark and Iceland.
Besides legitimate use of opioids as pain killers, widespread opioid abuse is undoubtedly linked to unhappiness, dissatisfaction and other negative psychological states. Adding to this, we now have the latest study of American binge drinking, from the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.
Annual Total Binge Drinks Consumed by U.S. Adults, 2015
Timothy S. Naimi, MD, MPH
Yong Liu, MD, MS
Hua Lu, MS
Robert D. Brewer, MD, MSPH
Binge drinking (four or more drinks for women, five or more drinks for men on an occasion) accounts for more than half of the 88,000 U.S. deaths resulting from excessive drinking annually. Adult binge drinkers do so frequently and at high intensity; however, there are known disparities in binge drinking that are not well characterized by any single binge-drinking measure. A new measure of total annual binge drinks was used to assess these disparities at the state and national levels.
In 2015, a total of 17.1% of U.S. adults (37.4 million) reported an annual average of 53.1 binge-drinking episodes per binge drinker, at an average intensity of 7.0 drinks per binge episode, resulting in 17.5 billion total binge drinks, or 467.0 binge drinks per binge drinker. Although binge drinking was more common among young adults (aged 18–34 years), half of the total binge drinks were consumed by adults aged ≥35 years. Total binge drinks per binge drinker were substantially higher among those with lower educational levels and household incomes than among those with higher educational levels and household incomes.
U.S. adult binge drinkers consume about 17.5 billion total binge drinks annually, or about 470 binge drinks/binge drinker. Monitoring total binge drinks can help characterize disparities in binge drinking and help plan and evaluate effective prevention strategies.
Without going into what exactly makes for a happy country, or why exactly 37 million Americans are drinking 7 drinks 53 times a year, and not mentioning the millions of opioid abusers (or the combination alcohol/opioid abusers), let’s just acknowledge that lots of Americans appear to be unhappy enough to seek an obliterative state of mind.
Even just starting to address the roots of those phenomena is beyond the scope of a post, a blog, or an encyclopedic analysis. Instead, just one thought.
Making tens of millions of people even marginally happier is a huge mission. What isn’t so hard is to ask that some high-profile, ever-present public figures not make other lives less happy by everything they say and do every single day. That is, please shut up and go away. It is a tiny step, but if it keeps the United States from dropping even further on the Happiness Index, and just a few million people are kept away from binge drinking and opioid abuse, it would be worth it.