It seems like everyone has a story about being hurt by someone else’s drinking. From fights and physical abuse, to traffic accidents and property damage, the effects of alcohol use go beyond just the person who drinks.
Now, a new study is quantifying just how pervasive the problem is. Researchers have found that each year, one-fifth of U.S. adults — roughly 53 million people — are affected by someone else’s drinking. Authors of the study, which was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, call this a “significant public health issue.”
“This study confirms what we already knew: that alcohol affects more than just the lives of people who drink, but also family, friends and society at large,” says Dr. Fadi Nicolas, chief medical officer of Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital and Sharp McDonald Center. “And these effects, both physical and emotional, can be long-lasting.”
For the study, nearly 9,000 adults reported whether someone else’s drinking within the past year caused them one of 10 types of harm, including marital or family problems, financial issues, and physical injury.
Overall, 21% of women and 23% of men experienced at least one negative impact, the most common of which was threats or harassment. Women were more likely to report financial and family problems, while men faced more issues related to property damage and physical aggression. Women were more likely to experience harm from a spouse or family member, whereas men were impacted more by strangers.
Age and personal drinking habits played a factor, too. Adults under 25 years old were more likely to experience a broad range of secondhand harm due to someone else’s drinking compared to older adults. In addition, almost half of men and women who themselves were heavy drinkers said they had been harmed by someone else’s alcohol use.
“This study confirms that people who drink alcohol not only put themselves at risk, but they also endanger family and friends,” says Nicolas. “If you have a family history of alcoholism, or if you come from a background of violence and heavy alcohol use, you need to watch your drinking more than the average person.”
And if you spend time around people who drink, says Nicolas, be aware of your surroundings and take steps to reduce the chances of being hurt, such as staying close to someone you trust.
If you or a loved one is struggling with excessive alcohol use, Sharp Mesa Vista and Sharp McDonald Center can help. Both hospitals offer inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment programs. Call 858-836-8434, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Fadi Nicolas about the secondhand effects of alcohol use for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.