More money, more alcohol.
That’s the conclusion of researchers who recently studied the drinking habits of people in Europe.
The results of a survey made it clear that people in Britain, Ireland, and Portugal drink more alcohol than citizens of the other European nations.
The survey results also validated the existence of a correlation between socioeconomic status and drinking habits.
The researchers concluded that people with more money drink more than people with less money.
The same appears to be true in the United States.
Medical professionals here say they have long understood that higher incomes correspond to more drinking — though not necessarily more alcohol-related health problems.
Why rich people drink more
The relationship between income and drinking is somewhat nuanced, along with factors such as level of education.
“As income and education go up, the percentage of people drinking goes up,” Aaron White, PhD, senior scientific advisor to the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, told Healthline. “People that make more money are more likely to drink more, and more of them binge drink — or cross the four to five drink threshold — than people at lower incomes.”
The likeliest explanation for this association is accessibility.
“Access is the key factor,” White said.
For starters, wealthier people are likelier to live in metropolitan areas where bars and restaurants serving alcohol are concentrated.
“If you have money and you live near outlets that serve alcohol, you have more access. As access goes up, people drink more. As prices go down, people drink more,” White said.
Though paying more for drinks may not appeal to everyone, it would significantly drive down drinking rates.
“Dozens of studies have strongly suggested that, as price goes up, consumption goes down,” White says. “Where there are drink specials, there is heavier drinking — and more drinking and driving.”
“If the cost of alcohol were to increase, either by taxes or supply and demand, the harms associated with consumption would decrease.”
The health effects
And yet, while wealthier people have a higher chance of mild alcohol use disorder (AUD), they are less likely than people with lower incomes to have serious or severe AUD – what’s generally identified as true alcoholism.
“People with severe AUD can’t quit, can’t cut down, and can’t control their drinking,” White explained.
Still, causation is not always clear. Someone with alcohol dependency may lose their job because of overdrinking and will then incur the economic consequences.
“You may have been wealthy, but your alcohol abuse disorder may push you into a lower income bracket,” White said.
Lower income is associated with higher incidence of alcohol-related conditions like cirrhosis.
Factors such as mental illness including depression, the strains and stresses of poverty, and trauma also contribute to excessive drinking — which in turn exacerbates the same underlying issues.
“Not everyone drinks alcohol because they like the way it feels,” White said. “Some people drink because their lives are hard and they’re doing what they need to do to cope. A lot of people drink to feel less bad.”
Higher income may also mitigate the risks of drinking, explaining why people with lower incomes who drink are more affected.
Someone who drinks heavily can afford to spend money on their health, and will be likelier to avoid some of the risks associated with alcohol use.
“If you see a doctor, you can learn about cirrhosis,” said White. “If you buy vegetables, you’re going to replenish the vitamins that alcohol is depleting. You can go to, or have a gym. You might go to a therapist.”
“More money may bring more alcohol intake, but you’re also going to have access to resources that could mitigate the effects of alcohol,” White added. “Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you access to some of the resources that can offset the adverse effects of heavy drinking.”
The rich still face risks
However, not even wealth can prevent some potential health effects of excessive drinking.
Females are at a greater risk of these consequences.
“Even one drink a day raises a woman’s breast cancer risk by 10 percent,” White said. “If you have more than a drink a day, you should think about that and talk to your doctor.”
Alcohol-related harm is also likelier when drinking while on medications due to potential interactions — even if drinking isn’t excessive.