Academic journal article Alcohol Research

Tracking Alcohol Consumption over Time

Academic journal article Alcohol Research

Tracking Alcohol Consumption over Time

Article excerpt

Researchers are tracking long-term changes in alcohol consumption and related behaviors or outcomes in order to detect trends in the entire population or certain subgroups, test models of alcohol-related outcomes, and understand the consequences of interventions. Such analyses must consider the complexity of typical lifetime consumption patterns. Major approaches to measuring alcohol consumption over time include aggregate measures of consumption (e.g., sales data), cross-sectional surveys, and longitudinal or panel surveys. When analyzing the data, researchers must try to ensure the comparability of measurements over time. The stability of various measures and the potential for combining different types of data are also important considerations when tracking alcohol consumption over time. If these requirements are met, the regular collection of data on aspects of alcohol consumption will greatly increase researchers' understanding of the forces influencing a population's alcohol consumption and its consequences. KEY WORDS: research and evaluation method; research quality; aggregate AOD (alcohol and other drug) consumption; cross-sectional study; survey; longitudinal study; population study; trend; statistical modeling; epidemiology


Epidemiologists not only monitor current alcohol consumption and its consequences (e.g., traffic crashes) as well as other alcohol-related behaviors, they also analyze long-term trends in these variables. This article summarizes some of the goals of such trend analyses, reviews three major types of trend measurements, and explores the comparability of such measurements over time. The article also discusses the stability of various measures and the possibilities for combining different types of data.


Regular and detailed monitoring of a nation's alcohol consumption has several benefits. First, each measurement provides a current portrait of drinking practices, and repeated measurements allow for early detection of trends in drinking patterns both for the entire nation and for population subgroups. Certain subgroups, such as ethnic minorities whose health problems and access to health care may differ from those of the majority of the population, may warrant particular attention in such analyses because they may be more vulnerable to alcohol-related and other health problems.

Second, by tracking alcohol consumption over time, investigators obtain the information needed to test temporal models of alcohol consumption behaviors and related outcomes, such as alcohol-related mortality and morbidity, including the development of alcohol dependence.

Third, close monitoring of the consumption patterns of a population subgroup or of people residing in a given geographic area may be vital for understanding other alcohol-related social harms, such as spousal violence, urban blight, or poor academic performance in a school setting.

Fourth, routine monitoring with rapid reporting allows investigators to detect changes in measures such as the prevalence of heavy-drinking episodes at an early stage, providing a basis for the planning and targeting of prevention programs. Finally, repeated measurements of alcohol consumption are needed to estimate the effectiveness of policy changes related to alcohol consumption, such as alcohol excise taxes and availability controls, increased accessibility of or entitlements to treatment, enactment or enforcement of drunk-driving laws, welfare reform, advertising, and health education. Particularly in light of ongoing economic and cultural changes that also affect drinking, repeated monitoring of alcohol consumption is helpful for understanding the effects of specific interventions and policy measures.

Changes over time occur at two levels: the individual level and the population level. Changes at the individual level can be monitored by diary, longitudinal, or retrospective surveys in which data are collected for the same individuals at different points in time. …

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