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Drinking alcohol has become more popular in China over the recent years. In fact, data shows that alcohol dependence in China increased from 0.02% to 0.68% between the 1980s and 1990s, and per capita alcohol consumption increased from 4.1 liters in 2005 to 7.2 liters in 2016. Although alcohol consumption and dependence has been steadily increasing since the 80’s, there have not been many studies compiling large-scale evidence of this epidemic in China. A new study has found that an astonishing 8% of Chinese men are problem drinkers.
In 2019, the scientific journal Addiction, published a study that analyzed the associations of problem drinking and wellbeing in China. Researchers from Oxford University, Peking University, and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences studied over 500,000 men and women aged 30-79 from ten rural and urban areas in China. Participants filled out questionnaires and provided blood samples to measure alcohol consumption, medical history, and reported wellbeing. Based on their answers, people were classified as: abstainers, ex-regular drinkers, reduced-intake drinkers, occasional drinkers, and current regular drinkers. Regular drinkers meant someone drank at least weekly in the past year. The study showed that there was a significant difference in alcohol consumption between men and women. Less than 2% of Chinese women drank regularly but about 33% of men were described as current regular drinkers. 1 in 4 men who are regular drinkers also reported one or more indicator of problem drinking. Problem drinking includes one or more of the following indicators related to alcohol use in the past month:
Current regular drinkers who did not report any of the above were categorized as low-risk drinkers or high-risk drinkers, based on how much alcohol they were consuming weekly. The most surprising data from the study showed that 8% of Chinese men are problem drinkers, and researchers sought to find out why.
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The results from the study were used to indicate factors that may affect one’s likelihood of becoming a problem drinker. Compared with low-risk drinkers, problem drinkers have less education and a lower household income. Overall, problem drinking was more common in rural than urban areas, driven mainly by how common morning drinking occurs in rural areas. Participants of the studies were surveyed on their experiences with any stressful life events and found that loss of income or debt and experience of violence were associated with problem drinking. This finding seemed to correlate with the prevalence of problem drinking among rural, lower social-economic Chinese men.
Science has long proven that heavy drinking can lead to both physical and mental problems, alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder (AUD). The study showed that compared to low-risk drinkers, Chinese men with problem drinking reported poorer health, less life satisfaction, more sleep problems, and a higher risk of depression and anxiety. All of these are signs or side effects of heavy drinking or an alcohol addiction. Chinese men with two or more problem drinking indicators had about a two-fold higher risk for all causes of death than low-risk drinkers. In conclusion, problem drinking was associated with poor wellbeing and a higher risk of death.
Drinking in China has been on the rise since the 1980’s and officials are starting to notice national health problems that resemble those in Western countries. Now that researchers have gathered evidence, they hope it can help policy makers when making decisions on how to improve health outcomes in China.
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