July 01, 2019
3 min read

53 million American adults impacted by others’ alcohol use

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More than 50 million adults in the U.S. were harmed by another person’s alcohol use in 2015, according to findings recently published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

“Given the impact on other people’s physical and mental health and quality of life, the societal costs of alcohol are estimated to be twice those incurred by drinkers to themselves,” Madhabika B. Nayak, PhD, of the Alcohol Research Group, Public Health Institute, in Oakland, California, and colleagues wrote. “Alcohol’s harm to others is, therefore, a significant public health issue,” they added.

Researchers reviewed data from a 2015 telephone survey of 8,750 U.S. adults aged 18 years and older, (5,187 women) to ascertain how many respondents indicated a physical, emotional or financial harm related to someone else’s drinking.

Nayak and colleagues found that one in five adults — which would project to 53 million people in the U.S. population — reported such an occurrence, with the most common being harassment/threats (31%) and driving-related harms (16%).

In addition, 43.2% of women and 41.9% of men who reported harm by another person’s drinking were younger than 25 years. Women were more likely than men to report harm because of a spouse/partner/ex-partner or ex-family member’s drinking (4.2% vs. 1.8%). Men were more likely than women to report harm due to a stranger’s drinking (8.7% vs. 6.2%).

Nayak suggested ways to mitigate the harms alcohol causes.

More than 50 million adults in the U.S. were harmed by another person’s alcohol use in 2015, according to findings recently published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.


“Control policies, such as alcohol pricing, taxation, reduced availability and restricting advertising may be the most effective ways to reduce not only alcohol consumption but also alcohol's harm to persons other than the drinker,” she said in a press release.

Recognizing if your patient is impacted by another’s drinking

Nayak provided some resources clinicians can use to identify someone who has been harmed by someone else’s drinking alcohol in an interview with Healio Primary Care.

“Ask patients about their own drinking as in a typical screening format, such as that provided in the NIH’s pocket guide titled ‘How to screen for heavy drinking,’ and ask patients if they know someone who is a heavy drinker/drinks excessively, and if this heavy drinker lives in their household,” she said in an interview.

Other literature provides additional ways that clinicians may be able to recognize non-drinkers impacted by others’ drinking.

Laura Lander, MSW, of the department of behavioral medicine and psychiatry at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, and colleagues wrote in Social Work in Public Health that children with parents who have a substance use disorder, such as one caused by alcohol, are more susceptible to having problems with anxiety, depression, trauma and other mental illness. These authors added that “facilitating a formal evaluation or referral to treatment will be helpful” to those who are impacted by the person’s drinking.

In addition, the website of Al-Anon, an organization for those who know someone with a potential drinking problem, indicates adults who answer ‘yes’ to questions such as ‘Do you constantly seek approval and affirmation?’, ‘Do you fail to recognize your accomplishments?’, ‘Do you fear criticism?’, ‘Do you overextend yourself?’ may have been negatively influenced by someone else’s drinking. – by Janel Miller

For more information:

The NIH pocket guide “How to screen for heavy drinking” is available at: https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/practitioner/PocketGuide/pocket_guide5.htm


Al-Anon. Did you grow up with a problem drinker? https://al-anon.org/newcomers/self-quiz/adult-grew-up-with-alcoholic-quiz/. Accessed June 28, 2019.

Lander L, et al. Soc Work Public Health 2013;doi:10.1080/19371918.2013.759005.

Nayak MB, et al. J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2019;doi:10.15288/jsad.2019.80.273.

Disclosures : Healio Primary Care was unable to determine Nayak and colleagues’ relevant financial disclosures prior to publication. Please see the other references for those authors’ relevant financial disclosures.