Alcohol’s Secondhand Harms: Prevalence and Risk Factors

Harmful drinking can have severe physical and psychological consequences for the person consuming alcohol. However, the negative impact does not just stop at the individual level.

Researchers from the US have examined data from two parallel national surveys to uncover the extent of alcohol harm to others among adult men and women, and the links between alcohol harm to others with sociodemographics and alcohol-related characteristics, including the harmed individual’s own drinking and the presence of a heavy drinker in the household.

The researchers gathered sociodemographic information and descriptions of any harm in the last 12 months caused by “someone who had been drinking,”

Forms of harm included:

  1. being harassed, bothered, called names, or otherwise insulted
  2. feeling threatened or afraid
  3. having clothing or belongings ruined
  4. having house, car, or other property vandalized
  5. being pushed, hit, or assaulted
  6. being physically harmed
  7. being in a traffic accident
  8. being a passenger in a vehicle with a drunk driver
  9. having family problems or marriage difficulties
  10. having financial trouble

On gathering an analysing the data, the researchers found that:

  • One in five adults experienced at least one of ten 12-month harms because of someone else’s drinking
  • Women were more likely to report harm due to drinking by a spouse/partner or family member, whereas men were more likely to report harm due to a stranger’s drinking
  • Younger age increased risk for all alcohol harm to other types, except physical aggression
  • Being of Black/ other ethnicity, being separated/widowed/divorced, and having a college education without a degree each predicted physical aggression harm

The results provide evidence for the extensive harm to others that can be caused by individuals drinking. It highlights populations that are particularly vulnerable and emphasises the need for both broad and targeted interventions to protect society from alcohol-related harm.

Nayak, M. B., Patterson, D., Wilsnack, S. C., Karriker-Jaffe, K. J., & Greenfield, T. K. (2019). Alcohol’s secondhand harms in the United States: New data on prevalence and risk factors. Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs, 80(3), 273-281.
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United States