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How Socioeconomic Status and Alcohol Use Are Related
Alcohol is one of the leading causes of death in America, and alcohol use is very closely related to socioeconomic status (SES). The relationship between socioeconomic status and alcohol consumption takes the shape of an inverted bell curve; high SES and alcohol use peaks highly on one side, a trough is seen with middle SES and alcohol use, and then low SES and alcohol use picks back up and peaks highly on the other side. High socioeconomic status has been associated with higher rates of overall consumption and frequency, while low socioeconomic status has been associated with higher percentages of adverse alcohol outcomes such as binge drinking, alcohol abuse, and alcohol dependence.
What Factors Influence Alcohol Use?
Traditionally, many people in the United States have likened alcoholism with behavioral issues and a personal lack of control; however, there are many things that influence how much alcohol a person drinks, including factors such as genetic disposition and environment. The environment in which an individual lives and works plays a significant role in that person’s behaviors and attitudes regarding alcohol. Research has shown that one of the most important environmental aspects that effects alcohol use is socioeconomic status. Socioeconomic status is the social standing or class of an individual and/or group based on a combination of three factors, including:
Socioeconomic status can be determined on the individual, neighborhood, or national-level, and is classified as low, middle, and high. Income is calculated based on how much someone earns, including salary and wages, as well as monetary assets such as investments, savings, and inheritable wealth. Education is a factor that typically corresponds to the possession of a high school and/or college diploma. Those with less than a high school diploma or equivalent are often classified as low-SES; those that graduate with a high school diploma and/or have some college or technical school experience are considered as middle-SES; and those with a college-level degree or higher are typically regarded as high-SES. Occupation is harder to determine but is typically based off a job’s earning potential and education requirement.
Relationship Between Higher Socioeconomic Status and Alcohol
People with low socioeconomic status are generally stigmatized as having the highest rates of alcohol use, but multiple findings have indicated that people with higher socioeconomic status actually consume similar or even greater amounts of alcohol. Adults of higher SES are more likely to frequently engage in drinking and consume more alcoholic beverages on average than those with lower SES. This is due to a variety of factors, such as upper-income Americans can better afford to purchase alcohol and often engage in more social activities that may involve drinking compared to those of lower socioeconomic status. According to a study preformed in 2016, individual socioeconomic status was positively associated with drinking status; i.e. the higher the income that an individual earned, the more alcohol he or she consumed. Additionally, men living in neighborhoods with higher SES were reported to have higher probabilities of heavy drinking and intoxication.
47% of higher-income and educated drinkers say they have had an alcoholic beverage within the last 24 hours.
78% of individuals with an income of $75,000 or higher reported that they drink alcohol.
80% of college graduates reported that they drink, compared to only 52% of those with a high school diploma or less.
It may seem strange that successful people with high-earning jobs have a greater tendency to drink more alcohol than those that don’t, but approximately 20% of current alcoholics fit the profile as high-functioning alcoholics. High-functioning alcoholics are individuals that are addicted to alcohol but are still able to maintain the appearance of a successful, normal life. However, this is simply a façade as they still need help in recovering from their addiction.
Relationship Between Lower Socioeconomic Status and Alcohol
Compared to those of higher socioeconomic status, persons of lower socioeconomic status tend to drink less infrequently but have higher rates of alcohol mortality and morbidity. This can be attributed to a number of factors including lack of accessibility to quality healthcare and stress. The lower the SES the greater the number and severity of stressful events that occur in an individual’s life, such as: a loss of income, death of a family member and/or friend, residential relocation, and divorce. Binge drinking and alcohol abuse is correlatively much more common in disadvantaged neighborhoods than those with higher-income residents. Heavy episodic drinking, such as binge drinking, has a greater negative impact on health than consistent moderate drinking, which is an important contributor to the high alcohol mortality rates among those of low SES.
Socioeconomic status is also further complicated by a variety of factors, such as race, ethnicity, and gender. Therefore, among people of lower SES, members of further marginalized communities, such as racial minorities and homeless individuals, experience even greater alcohol-related consequences.
Lower SES increased the risk of alcohol-related mortality for men by 66%.
Lower SES increased the risk of alcohol-related mortality for women by 78%.
Alcohol Use is on the Rise for Those of Middle Socioeconomic Status
Although alcohol use rates amongst the middle socioeconomic status are comparatively lower than those of both higher and lower socioeconomic statuses, research has shown that it is steadily increasing. As alcohol has progressively become more available and cheaper over time, a larger proportion of the population has been able to drink relatively larger amounts of alcohol more consistently. A study found that middle SES career women working in higher-up managerial jobs or in larger companies were drinking twice the amount compared to women working in manual jobs. The repercussions of increased drinking are not quite as detrimental for people of middle socioeconomic status as those of lower socioeconomic status; however, alcohol-related injury and disease are still very dangerous and probable outcomes no matter the social standing.
Preventing Alcohol Abuse for All
Overall, the relationship between alcohol use and socioeconomic status is complex and varies. Nobody is immune to addiction or the adverse effects of alcohol; however, the negative health outcomes of alcohol consumption falls disproportionately on the unemployed, manual workers, and poorer incomes of lower SES. It is important that people of all socioeconomic backgrounds receive treatment and learn about the health risks of excessive alcohol use. If you think that you may be struggling with an alcohol addiction, contact a dedicated treatment specialist for information about your treatment options today.
- Author — Last Edited: May 14, 2019
Alcohol Policy MD. (2005). The Effects of Environmental Factors on Alcohol Use and Abuse. Retrieved on 12thOctober 2018 from http://www.alcoholpolicymd.com/alcohol_and_health/study_env.htm
American Psychological Association. (2018). Socioeconomic Status. Retrieved on 12thOctober 2018 from https://www.apa.org/topics/socioeconomic-status/
Collins, Susan E. (2016). Associations Between Socioeconomic Factors and Alcohol Outcomes. Retrieved on 12thOctober 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4872618/
Institute of Alcohol Resources. (2017). Socioeconomic Groups’ Relationship with Alcohol. Retrieved on 2nd November 2018 http://www.ias.org.uk/Alcohol-knowledge-centre/Socioeconomic-groups/Factsheets/Socioeconomic-groups-relationship-with-alcohol.aspx
Jones, Jeffrey M. (2015). Drinking Highest Among Educated, Upper-Income Americans. Retrieved on 12thOctober 2018 from https://news.gallup.com/poll/184358/drinking-highest-among-educated-upper-income-americans.aspx
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Mulia, Nina. (2012). Interactive Influences of Neighborhood and Individual Socioeconomic status on Alcohol Consumption and Problems. Retrieved on 12thOctober 2018 from https://academic.oup.com/alcalc/article/47/2/178/187989