This study uses two national alcohol surveys to assess rates of drinking problems from 1984 to 1990, to examine any changes in reports of drinking problems within demographic subgroups, and to evaluate the role of alcohol use versus demographic variables in predicting drinking problems in the 1990 survey only.
Data were obtained from two national alcohol surveys that utilized household probability samples within the 48 contiguous states in 1984 and 1990. Weights to adjust for design effects and nonresponse were applied to both samples of current drinkers.
No significant changes were found for reports of three or more dependence symptoms (6.7% in 1984, 7.6% in 1990) or two or more social consequences (10.9% in 1984, 12.8% in 1990). Significant increases in reports of two or more social consequences were found for younger people, never married individuals and respondents who were not employed. A significant increase in reports for three or more dependence symptoms was also found for the unemployed group. Based on a cross-sectional analysis of the 1990 survey only, alcohol use variables were significant predictors of drinking problems. With the exception of younger age, demographic characteristics did not significantly predict alcohol problems.
Although drinking problems are pervasive, they may not be sensitive to immediate changes in alcohol consumption. One explanation may be the changing social climate around drinking to which most drinkers have been, and are continuing to be, exposed.