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Economy's downturn five years ago impacting alcohol use today

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The recession of 2008-2009 has a long reach when it comes to alcohol use disorders, aka alcohol abuse and the disease of alcoholism. New research in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research indicates some Americans still struggle to make ends meet and those who turned to alcohol because of it are suffering from alcohol use disorders today.

The study examines the relationship between the economy and alcohol problems, finding that men and middle-aged Americans are at higher risk for “multiple, adverse alcohol outcomes.” The research team notes that despite higher taxation in many states, the price of alcohol has gone down in recent years and this may make it easier for economically challenged people stressed out by the recession to buy alcohol. “It’s understandable when a person is in such a terrible place, fearing for his economic future, and feeling responsible for his family,” the researchers conclude.

“Research suggests that economic downturns can have severe impacts on stress and mental health,” said Nina Mulia, of the Alcohol Research Group of the Public Health Institute. “A 2009 study of 26 European Union (EU) countries found a rise in unemployment led to significantly higher suicide rates among people under age 65. Additionally, a 2011 longitudinal study using U.S. data showed that increased unemployment was linked to declining psychological health. Furthermore, a recent review of many individual-level studies concluded that job loss is associated with a greater risk for depression and anxiety symptoms.”

Drinking – for alcoholics and non-alcoholics alike – is a common response to stress, depression and anxiety. Ironically, a separate 2013 study found self-medicating depression with alcohol, a depressant, causes more depression. "I don't know that the average person realizes that heavy drinking can induce mood problems," said lead researcher Marc A. Schuckit, M.D., of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. A third of depression episodes are tied to alcohol consumption. (See “Journal: Alcohol causes depression rather than curing it”)

“This new study brings us a long way towards confirming how much economic shocks impact peoples’
health,” adds Laura Schmidt, of the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine. “It
emphasizes the role of economic stress – what it’s like to lose a job, a house, a retirement ‘nest
egg’—and how much that impacts a person’s state of mind and leads to problems with drinking.”

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