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Rising unemployment is associated with an increase in drinking, a new study suggests. The researchers say they found an increase in binge drinking, driving under the influence, and problem drinking.

The results counter previous studies on drinking and the economy, the researchers say. “It was thought that when unemployment goes up, income goes down and people will consume less because they don’t have the resources,” lead researcher Michael T. French, PhD of the University of Miami told WebMD. He noted people seem to be self-medicating with alcohol. “If you have more free time, you can engage in activities like drinking more frequently than if you were employed. The self-medication and leisure time effect are dominating the income effect.”

French found binge drinking increased as the rate of unemployment rose. The study included data from 2001 to 2005. It found even people with jobs have more binge drinking days and are more likely to drive under the influence during a bad economy.

“The way we explain this is even though employed individuals have a job, they could be affected psychologically (e.g., fear of losing their job) from an economic downturn, leading them to have more drinking days and driving under the influence episodes as the state-level unemployment rate increases,” French said in a news release.

The findings appear in the journal Health Economics.


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