Alcohol Use

In 2006, 50.8 percent of the total U.S. population aged 12 and older reported using alcohol in the past month; among those aged 18 and older, the rate was 54.7 percent (data not shown). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that, in small amounts, can have a relaxing effect. Although there is some debate over the health benefits of small amounts of alcohol consumed regularly, the negative health effects of excessive alcohol use and abuse are well established.1 Short-term effects can include increased risk of motor vehicle injuries, falls, domestic violence, and child abuse. Long-term effects can include pancreatitis, high blood pressure, liver cirrhosis, various cancers, and psychological disorders, including alcohol dependency.

Overall, males are more likely to drink alcohol than females, with past-month alcohol use reported by 57.0 percent of males and 44.9 percent of females aged 12 years and older. This is true across all age groups with the exception of 12- to 17-year-olds; in that group, 17.5 percent of females and 16.6 percent of males reported past-month use.

Alcohol use, and the frequency of use, also vary by race and ethnicity. Among women aged 18 and older, non-Hispanic White women were most likely to report any alcohol use in the past month (53.5 percent), while Asian/Pacific Islander women were least likely (28.4 percent), followed by American Indian/Alaska Native women (31.1 percent). American Indian/Alaska Native women were more likely than women of other races and ethnicities to engage in binge drinking, which is defined as drinking five or more drinks on the same occasion at least once in the past month (19.6 percent), and heavy drinking, which is defined as five or more drinks on the same occasion at least five times in the past month (6.9 percent). Non-Hispanic White women reported the next highest percentages of binge drinking and heavy drinking (16.8 and 4.1 percent, respectively).

1 Mayo clinic. Food and Nutrition, Alcohol and your health: Weighing the pros and cons [online]. May 2006., accessed 03/31/08.

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