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For Immediate Release:
December 19, 2000
For more information contact:
DHS Communications
(213) 240-8144 Pager: (213) 990-7107

Alcohol Use and Risky Behaviors High Among County Residents
Health Department Urges Caution as Holiday Season Invites More Alcohol Use

LOS ANGELES - An in-depth health survey sponsored by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services revealed alarmingly high binge and chronic drinking rates among residents. Of the County residents who currently consume alcohol, 23% of men 7% of women were classified as either occasional or frequent binge drinkers based on their reported drinking patterns. Nine percent of men and 2% of women were classified as chronic drinkers, those who consume 60 drinks per month or more.

Also troubling is that 4% of all adults who drink alcohol - or an estimated 160,000 adults - report that they have driven while intoxicated within the last month. Five percent - and estimated 350,000 adults- have been a passenger with a driver they thought was intoxicated within the last month.

"Binge drinking leads to reckless behavior with individuals engaging in risks they may not otherwise take part in if their judgement were not impaired," said Jonathan E. Fielding, M.D., M.P.H., Director of Public Health. "Residents should be warned about these behaviors, particularly at this time of the year when alcohol consumption is higher than usual."

Alcohol abuse, such as chronic and binge drinking, can lead to alcoholism and places an enormous burden on the health care system. In addition to health problems, alcohol abuse is related to domestic violence, unemployment, aggravated family issues and divorce. Approximately one in eight adults surveyed reported that alcohol has had a harmful effect on themselves or a family member - a figure that translates to just under one million adults in the County who have this perception. Respondents in the 18 - 24 age group had the highest percentages of drinking and driving, riding in a car with a driver thought to be intoxicated, and binge and chronic drinking behaviors.

Alcohol dependence is the second leading cause of premature death and disability among Los Angeles County residents.

"Given the price society pays for alcoholism, the numbers of young adults who are chronic drinkers will undoubtedly create a greater burden on our social service agencies and health care system as this population ages," said Paul Simon, M.D., M.P.H., Director of Health Assessment and Epidemiology.

Chronic drinking is a problem at any age, but is often under-recognized among seniors. Four percent of seniors (60+) in the survey reported chronic drinking.

The survey also found variations in drinking patterns across racial/ethnic groups. Twenty-two percent of Latinos reported occasional or frequent binge drinking, compared to 14% of Whites, 13% African Americans and 10% Asian/Pacific Islanders.

The Los Angeles County Health Survey is a population-based telephone survey of approximately 8,000 households in the County, examining health and health-related issues for adults and children. Field Research Corporation conducted the survey for DHS with support from the California Department of Health Services and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services. The survey was repeated in September 1999 through April 2000; the biennial survey was first conducted in 1997.

Public Health is committed to protecting and improving the health of the nearly 10 million residents of Los Angeles County. Through a variety of programs, community partnerships and services, Public Health oversees environmental health, disease control and community and family health. Public Health comprises more than 3,600 employees and has an annual budget exceeding $430 million.