Survey: People in the Western U.S. Using Alcohol to Cope with Stress, Mental Illness, but Avoiding Concerns
By The Recovery Village Ridgefield
Editor Nicole LaNeve
Last Updated: May 30, 2023
Editorial Policy | Research Policy
There are many reasons that underlie a person’s relationship with alcohol. While some can drink casually or even regularly without ever feeling more than a hangover, for others, drinking comes with serious physical, emotional and social side effects. Over half the time, a person’s genes are behind their risk of alcohol misuse or developing alcohol use disorder, but the other half, the reason is much less clear.
From our recent national survey, we isolated the responses from just our western states to dig deeper into the patterns of drinking behavior in this particular region. Some participants had received treatment to stop using alcohol in the past year, while others made no attempt to stop or enter recovery at all. We asked them about their alcohol use, the motivation behind their drinking, perceived health effects and the ways, if any, they had considered intervening. Beneath the obvious answers of socialization and recreation, most respondents from the western states said they turned to alcohol to cope with stress, anxiety or mental health issues, but demonstrated a hesitance to seek help despite these concerns.
Table of Contents
As expected, a majority of the western respondents were more likely to drink as entertainment or recreation during social gatherings — a whopping 65% — but coping with stress was an even more frequent response.
- Almost two-thirds reported they drank to cope with stress (64%).
- 40% said they used alcohol to cope with mental health symptoms like anxiety or depression.
- Slightly fewer reported drinking out of boredom (38%).
- Nearly three in twenty said they drink daily as part of a routine (17.3%) or reported a physical dependence on alcohol (15.2%).
In the survey, we encouraged respondents to select all motivations for their alcohol use that applied and then rank those motivations in terms of importance. Once again, stress was most often the top-ranked reason among western-state respondents, with mental health coping in third, behind recreational and social motivations. Considering that more people are reporting an increase in anxiety, stress and depression as well as alcohol consumption as a result of COVID-19, these results are a cause for concern.
Of the 428 western-state participants in our survey, a little less than half (44.6%) qualified as “heavy drinkers” and over 80% reported taking their first drink of alcohol somewhere between the ages of 12 and 25 years. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol use disorder (AUD) is “an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences,” which affected 14.1 million adults in the United States in 2019. They also reported that drinking before the age of 21 made it five times more likely that someone might develop such a disorder.
A majority of western respondents felt that drinking was already affecting their physical health. The effects of drinking on their mental health, relationships and career, however, were the most likely to have a significant impact on their lives.
- 61% reported effects in their physical health
- 46% said drinking affected their mental health
- 44% said it affected their relationships with loved one
- 22% felt their drinking affected their career or job
Globally, alcohol causes 3 million deaths per year, and nearly one-third of U.S. adults reportedly experience AUD at some point during their lives, as well as physical and mental health complications associated with heavy drinking. Among the most reported physical and mental health issues western survey participants experienced as a result of their alcohol use, depression topped the list at 35.7%. High blood pressure was a close second (31.5%) and others reported liver disease (17.5%) and a weakened immune system (15%).
These effects were even more pronounced for those westerners who qualified as heavy drinkers. They were much more likely to report some specific potential health complications as a result of their alcohol use. These participants were:
- 6x more likely to report nerve damage
- 6x more likely to report pancreatitis
- 4x more likely to report cardiovascular disease
- 3x more likely to report liver disease
- 2.65x more likely to report cirrhosis
- 2.5x more likely to report high blood pressure
Considering all of the negative effects that western-state survey respondents reported, it should be little surprise that many of the survey respondents had either stopped or tried to stop drinking. Despite concerns about their health, lives and relationships, however, over one-third of respondents from the western region answered that they did not or would not seek any outside help to intervene in their alcohol use.
Compared to only 21.7% reporting that they had or considered going to a professional substance use treatment facility, 39% said they never have nor would ever consider treatment or outside help. Another 20.8% said they would go to a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous and 18.5% said they would work with their doctor or psychiatrist. Those who reported themselves to be physically dependent on alcohol or described it as a part of their daily routine were the least likely among respondents to report an attempt to stop, but there are many reasons people with AUD might avoid seeking help. These statistics are concerning when you consider that alcohol is one of the few substances that has potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms, not to mention the uncomfortable detox process.
While this reluctance to seek support combined with rising rates of stress and depression and with increased alcohol consumption in the western states is a cause for concern, there is also good news. Studies have shown that mutual support groups and developing medical treatments can provide significant benefits in the journey towards responsible alcohol use and AUD recovery. Whatever the reason that we fall into alcohol misuse — and a global pandemic has certainly given us many — taking that brave step to ask for support and seek recovery when things first get concerning can be the ladder to help us out of it.
Professional help is available for you or a loved one at The Recovery Village Ridgefield. Contact us today to speak to one of our intake coordinators who will help you understand the programs we offer, how insurance can help cover the costs of rehab and how we’ll support you every step of the way.
Our Recovery Advocates are ready to answer your questions about addiction treatment and help you start your recovery.
- Pollard, Michael. “Changes in Adult Alcohol Use and Consequences During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the US.” JAMA Network Open. 2020;3(9):e2022942. Sept 29, 2020. Accessed April 29, 2021.
- Witkiewitz, K., R.Z. Litten and L. Leggio. “Advances in the science and treatment of alcohol use disorder.” Science Advances, September 25, 2019. Accessed April 29, 2021.
- National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” April 2021. Accessed April 29, 2021.