Study Finds Educated, Affluent Young Adults Most Likely to Drink Heavily
The study was conducted through “audience segmentation,” which categorizes people by their attitudes, opinions, behaviors, and lifestyles. Howard B. Moss, co-author of the study and associate director for Clinical and Translation Research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) said, “In this study, we utilized an established and widely used marketing research database and merged it with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in order to identify high-risk drinkers, their demographics, and consumer behaviors and media habits.”
Vivian B. Faden, acting director of the Office of Science Policy and Communications at NIAAA, said that this new approach of understanding groups in terms of their habits and likes and dislikes can help with prevention efforts. “Analyses such as this one may provide an important additional way to identify high-risk drinkers by understanding the ‘social’ groups in which they are most likely to be found,” Faden said. “The average reader may be interested in figuring out which group they belong to. Knowing what the drinking habits of that group are may encourage them to reflect on their own drinking practices and recognize that they may be engaging in high-risk drinking.”
The study identified heavy drinking as having five or more drinks per drinking episode at least twice a month, and about half of those engaged in heavy drinking were young adults. These Cyber Millennials had the highest rate of risky drinking and represented “well-educated, ethnically mixed, technologically sophisticated individuals who live in urban fringe areas on the West Coast and Middle Atlantic regions,” said Dr. Moss. “When one thinks of heavy drinkers, at least in the United States, we typically think of 40-something males that have martinis at lunchtime and go home and relax with a few shots…so we were surprised about the age of some of the groups,” he continued.
In fact, 20-somethings represent the highest proportion of alcohol-dependent individuals in the US. Similarly, according to the 2004 Canadian Addiction Survey, people ages 18-24 had the highest percentages of weekly heavy drinking. However, unlike the US, educated people with higher levels of income in Canada were less likely to be heavy drinkers. Faden said that drinking among young people is prevalent, and that many “Cyber Millennials may be continuing drinking patterns established in their late teens and early twenties.” She also pointed out that this group has the money to pay for multiple drinks.
Strangely, this group was also found to be among the most health-conscious segments of the population, and their smoking rates were lower than average. “They own bicycles, they buy organic foods, and they’re extremely health-conscious, but they engage in this rather health-destructive behavior of binge drinking at least twice a month, and that’s fairly ironic from our perspective,” said Moss.
As for prevention, the study noted that NIAAA has research suggesting that young adults benefit from outreach, and that their behaviors are “less entrenched than adults so (they are) more amenable to change.” Moss hopes to take advantage of his knowledge of the group’s consumer habits to send them health messages, such as alternating alcohol drinks for bottled water, of which they are already “huge consumers.” He also proposed targeting youth through Internet campaigns, since they already have a higher-than-average rate of Internet use.
“Readers need to recognize that a healthy lifestyle should include moderation in the consumption of alcoholic beverages,” Moss said. “Being young, sophisticated, smart, successful, affluent, and physically active does not protect against the adverse effects of heedless and excessive alcohol consumption.”