Survey Adds Up Our Psychological Distress, Drinking and More

Posted on July 5th, 2016

Drinking and Mental HealthFor more than 50 years, representatives from the U.S. Census Bureau have personally visited U.S. homes to ask the inhabitants a series of health-related questions. The result is the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), a key source of information about the well-being of the civilian population.

The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), a part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, then uses the information to help track trends, analyze healthcare access and inform healthcare policy.

In order to share the information as promptly as possible, the NCHS updates the data in stages. A recent release examined the 2015 findings around 15 health measures. Here’s a closer look at three of them as they relate to U.S. adults: our levels of serious psychological distress, how often we binge drink and the way we feel about cigarettes.

Psychological Distress: Women Report the Most

Our distress levels edged up in 2015, according to the survey, and women were hardest hit, especially those in the 45-to-64 age range.

Survey participants were asked how often they’d felt any of these things in the previous 30 days:

  • So sad nothing could cheer them up
  • Nervous
  • Restless or fidgety
  • Hopeless
  • That everything was an effort
  • Worthless

Each answer was assigned a number between 0 and 4. A total above 13 indicated serious psychological distress.

The survey concluded that 3.6% of U.S. adults experienced serious psychological distress in the previous 30 days. That’s up from 3.1% in 2014.

In all, 4.3% of women were found to have serious psychological distress compared to 2.9% of men in 2015. The highest levels of distress were seen in women ages 45 to 64 — a 4.9% total. For men in the same age range, the number was 3.2%. Across every age group, women reported more psychological distress than men.

The survey stretches back to 1997, with the lowest level of distress in U.S. adults — 2.4% — recorded in 1999. The high came in 2013, at 3.8%, although the survey notes that a change in the order of the questions that year might be skewing the total somewhat.

The findings hold true across ethnic and racial groups, with no significant difference seen in the prevalence of distress among non-Hispanic white adults, Hispanic adults and non-Hispanic black adults.

Heavy Drinking: White Men Lead the Field

Men continued to have more heavy drinking days than women, although the gap has slightly narrowed.

In 2015, just under 30% of men reported at least one heavy drinking day in the past year. For women, the number was 17.4%. A heavy drinking day was defined as five or more drinks for men and four for women. Both figures for alcoholism were down slightly from 2014.

By comparison, back in 1997, a total of 31.7% of men reported at least one heavy drinking day while women numbered 12.1%. (It’s important to note, however, that before 2013, the survey considered a heavy drinking day to be five drinks for both men and women.)

Broken down by age in the 2015 survey, the percentage of adults with at least one heavy drinking day was highest among males in the 25-to-44 age group (41.5%) and among women in the 18-to-24 age group (26%). After age 45, the number of heavy drinking days decreased for both sexes.

The racial group most likely to have one heavy drinking day in the past year was non-Hispanic white adults at 28.7%. Next were Hispanic adults at 21.1% and non-Hispanic black adults at 16.6%.

Smoking: More Good News

Cigarette smoking continued its steady march downward, with the rate of current smokers dropping almost 40%, from 24.7% in 1997 to 15.1% in 2015. That includes a dip from 16.5% in 2014.

There is just one jump in the statistics across those years: a rise from 19.7% in 2007 to around 20.5% in 2008 and 2009. The number then dipped again to 19.4% in 2010, and the downward trend continued.

Men are more likely than women to be current or former smokers, according to the 2015 figures. The percentage of women who had never smoked was 67.5%. Men came in at 58.3%.

The fewest current smokers for both sexes were seen in the 65-and-up age group. The 18-to-44 age group had the most male smokers. For women, more smoking occurred among those ages 45 to 64.

Among racial and ethnic groups, current smoking was most common among non-Hispanic white adults, at 17.4% of the population. Non-Hispanic black adults followed closely at 16.8%. Hispanic adults were least likely to smoke, at 9.9%.

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