This text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensee. Preface



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Legal Drugs

As noted earlier, alcohol and tobacco (nicotine) are two legal drugs that are very common and that together kill hundreds of thousands of Americans annually. According to national survey evidence collected by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the federal government, most people 12 and older (as well as many younger than 18) have tried alcohol, and over half the public drinks currently (defined as having had at least one drink in the past month). While many people have tried tobacco, only slightly more than one-fourth of the public uses it currently (at least once during the past month). Table 7.1 "Prevalence of Alcohol and Tobacco Use, Ages 12 and Older, 2010*" summarizes the prevalence of alcohol and nicotine use. Translating some of these percentages into actual numbers, almost 70 million Americans are current tobacco users (mostly by smoking cigarettes), and 131 million are current alcohol users.

Table 7.1 Prevalence of Alcohol and Tobacco Use, Ages 12 and Older, 2010*




Lifetime

Past year

Past month

Alcohol

82.5

66.4

51.8

Tobacco

68.7

32.8

27.4

* Percentage using in designated time period

Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2011).Results from the 2010 national survey on drug use and health: Summary of national findings. Rockville, MD: Author.

With this backdrop, we now discuss these two legal but very harmful drugs in greater detail.



Alcohol

Moderate alcohol use (more than one drink per day for an adult female and two drinks per day for an adult male) is relatively safe for most people and may even have health benefits (Harvard School of Public Health, 2012). [5] The problem is that many people drink much more than moderately. As the Harvard School of Public Health (2012) [6] explains, “If all drinkers limited themselves to a single drink a day, we probably wouldn’t need as many cardiologists, liver specialists, mental health professionals, and substance abuse counselors. But not everyone who likes to drink alcohol stops at just one. While most people drink in moderation, some don’t.”

SAMHSA survey data show the extent of such problem drinking, as its survey measures both binge drinking (five or more drinks on the same occasion—within two hours of each other—on at least one day in the past month) and heavy drinking (binge drinking on at least five days in the past month). Table 7.2 "Prevalence of Binge and Heavy Alcohol Use, 2010*" presents the relevant data for people 12 and older and also for those aged 18–20, the customary age for people in their first two years of college.

Table 7.2 Prevalence of Binge and Heavy Alcohol Use, 2010*






Ages 12 and older

Ages 18–20

Binge use

23.1

33.3

Heavy use

6.7

11.3

* Percentage engaging in alcohol use

Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2011).Results from the 2010 national survey on drug use and health: Summary of national findings. Rockville, MD: Author.
As Table 7.2 "Prevalence of Binge and Heavy Alcohol Use, 2010*" indicates, almost one-fourth of all people 12 and older and one-third of those aged 18–20 engage in binge drinking, while almost 7 percent and about 11 percent, respectively, engage in heavy drinking. The figures for those 12 and older translate to almost 59 million binge drinkers and 17 million heavy drinkers. These numbers show that tens of millions of people abuse alcohol annually and underscore the problem of dealing with problem drinking.

The amount of alcohol consumed annually by occasional, moderate, and heavy drinkers is staggering. The relevant data appear in Table 7.3 "Alcohol Consumption in the United States, 2010". Americans drink 7.6 billion gallons of alcohol annually, equivalent to 126 billion standard drinks. This number of drinks works out to 496 drinks per person annually for the 12 and older population and 748 drinks per person for the 12 and older population that drinks at all. Keep in mind that this is just an average. The heavy drinkers identified in Table 7.2 "Prevalence of Binge and Heavy Alcohol Use, 2010*" have many more than 748 drinks every year, while light drinkers have only a relative handful of drinks.

Table 7.3 Alcohol Consumption in the United States, 2010




Number of gallons

Equivalent number of standard drinks*

Beer

6.4 billion

68.2 billion

Wine

713.2 million

18.3 billion

Spirits

463.1 million

39.5 billion

Total

7.6 billion

126.0 billion

* one drink = 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of spirits


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