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53 million Americans are negatively affected by someone else’s alcohol use

According to new research, one in five American adults are negatively affected by someone else’s drinking. Each year in the U.S., an estimated 53 million people experience alcohol-related harm in the form of harassment, vandalism, physical aggression, car accidents, and financial or family problems.

The study authors note that this is a “significant public health issue” and argue that the secondhand effects of drinking should be addressed by policymakers the same as those imposed by secondhand smoke. 

A team of researchers led by Dr. Madhabika B. Nayak of the Alcohol Research Group analyzed data from two national polls, the National Alcohol’s Harm to Others Survey and the National Alcohol Survey. The study revealed that 21 percent of women and 23 percent of men experienced harm because of someone else’s drinking in the last 12 months. 

The most common harm reported by the respondents was threats or harassment. In addition, women were more likely to report financial and family problems, while men were more likely to report ruined property, vandalism, and physical aggression.

“The freedom to drink alcohol must be counter-balanced by the freedom from being afflicted by others’ drinking in ways manifested by homicide, alcohol-related sexual assault, car crashes, domestic abuse, lost household wages, and child neglect,” wrote Dr. Timothy Naimi of the Boston Medical Center in an accompanying commentary. 

Dr. Naimi is an advocate for increased taxes on alcoholic beverages. He pointed out that there is strong evidence that increased alcohol taxes decrease excessive drinking and reduce the related harm to others. 

In a second commentary, Dr. Sven Andréasson of the Karolinska Institutet of Stockholm explained that setting minimum prices for alcohol is also important for reducing the harms caused by drinking.

“There is now a growing literature on the effects of national alcohol policies to reduce not only consumption but also some of the secondhand harms from alcohol, notably the effects of price policies on all forms of violence – assaults, sexual violence, partner violence, and violence toward children,” wrote Dr. Andréasson. “Recent research on the effects of minimum pricing is particularly relevant in this context, where studies in Canada find reductions in violence after the introduction of minimum pricing.”

The study is published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol & Drugs.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Shutterstock/LightField Studios

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