Rise in National Drinking Problems
Teen-Age Switch from Narcotics to Alcohal
While hard drug problems have stolen the headlines, the number of Americans suffering from alcoholism has climbed at an alarming rate. According to a major study of American drinking habits, 7 per cent of the adult population—or nine million people—are alcoholics or problem drinkers. About 75 per cent are men and 25 per cent women. The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, in a report to Congress in March 1973, concluded that “alcohol dependence is without question the most serious drug problem in this country today.” More than 95 per cent of those who abuse alcohol are otherwise normal, average citizens—not “skid row” indigents.
Public health officials are particularly concerned with the sharp increase in teen-age drinking. “The current trend in drug use by youth is shifting back toward alcohol as the drug of choice,” said Dr. Vernelie Fox, chief of alcoholism services at Long Beach, Calif., General Hospital. In San Mateo County, Calif., where trends in student drug use have been monitored over the past five years, a recent survey of high school students snowed low rates of use for LSD, amphetamines, barbiturates and heroin, with amphetamine and barbiturate use actually declining during the past year. Alcohol continued, for the fifth straight year, to be the drug students tried most often and were most likely to continue to use; 81 per cent drank alcoholic beverages at least once during the year and 25 per cent said they drank 50 or more times.
According to the Washington, D.C., Area Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, the main reason that youthful drug use had declined is the scarcity of high-quality narcotics on the street. Alcohol is cheaper and easier to obtain and gives a satisfactory “high.” New state laws lowering the legal drinking age to 18 or 19 and heavy advertisement of “pop” wines designed to appeal to youthful taste buds also have encouraged the return to alcohol. But the revival of teen-age drinking has not necessarily signaled the passing of the youth narcotics problem. In fact, many young people use alcoholic beverages in combination with other drugs, especially marijuana. Such use produces a synergistic effect—an effect greater than the total of what the drugs could produce individually. Thousands of deaths—accidental or suicidal—occur each year among persons who take barbiturates or tranquilizers while intoxicated.