Drinking increases as unemployment rises

Binge drinking is increasing as more people lose their jobs, dispelling the notion that high unemployment rates have left people too poor to afford expensive drinking habits, according to research conducted at the University of Miami.

Health economics professor Michael French, along with his partners Maria Davalos and Hai Fang, investigated this unusual connection.

“We started reading literature that showed that, as the economy goes downhill, drinking rates decrease with it because there is less money to spend on it,” French said. “Due to the economic status now, we wanted to investigate if this matter was still true.”

Binge drinking is defined as consuming four drinks for men and three for women in two hours or less. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70 percent of binge drinking episodes occur with adults over the age of 26.

“When people lose their jobs or go from full-time to part-time positions, they have more leisure time, which causes them to drink more,” French said. “Also, people try to cope with losing their jobs by using the medication method, alcohol being the medicine.”

The National Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions has drawn the same conclusion as the UM study. Results showed that, as unemployment rates rise, both binge drinking and alcohol dependency increase.

Ray Winters, a professor in the health division of UM’s Department of Psychology, believes that binge-drinking tendencies are tied to how individuals normally handle stress.

“There are probably more people engaging in poor coping strategies, such as drinking or substance abuse, because there are more people who are suffering because of the economic downturn,” Winters said.

The study showed that the age demographic of those most likely to engage in binge drinking is between 18 and 24 years old, and African Americans are more likely than other races to binge drink. This is largely a consequence of high unemployment rates for these two groups. The research, which was published in Health Economics, analyzed alcohol consumption data from 2001 to 2005, according to the Miami New Times.