Binge alcohol and substance use across birth cohorts and the Global Financial Crisis in the United States


The social and economic consequences of the global financial crisis (GFC) of 2007-9 has had serious impacts on population health, economic prospects, and overall wellbeing in all generations, particularly Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers. The ways in which intergenerational inequality and global economic crises have affected population health, particularly with respect to excessive drinking and substance use in disadvantaged population groups has been understudied. Consequently, in this article, we seek to characterise the effects of the GFC on national trends in binge alcohol and substance use among Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers. By doing so, we aim to contribute to an understanding of the ways in which socioeconomic disadvantage engendered by the GFC has disparately affected the wellbeing of these generational cohorts. We present results from National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2007-16 to characterise binge alcohol and substance use among different generational cohorts in the United States during and after the GFC. Bivariate descriptive analysis and maximum-likelihood logit regressions focused on: (a) individual substances and binge drinking, (b) poly-use and © any use to simultaneously model how socioeconomic, demographic, and health characteristics were related to past-month substance use and to report the social, economic, and demographic correlates of substance use. Socioeconomic vulnerability was captured on a five-point scale comprised of: (1) health insurance status, (2) government assistance, (3) income, (4) self rated health, and (5) employment status. Millennials showed generally higher risk of binge alcohol and substance use during 2007-16 than Generation X, while Baby Boomers generally exhibited lower risk. Comparison of individual and poly-use patterns for the birth cohorts before and after reveals: Millennials were at significantly increased risk of use of binge alcohol (AOR=1.51; 95% CI=1.46- 1.56), cocaine (AOR=1.19; 95% CI=1.03- 1.37), heroin (AOR=1.39; 95% CI=1.01-1.91), and oxycontin (AOR=2.33; 95% CI=1.74-3.12) than Gen X while Baby Boomers were at significantly reduced risk of all substances. Nevertheless, Millennials were at significantly reduced risk of crack use (AOR=0.33; 95% CI=0.25-0.43) and poly-use (AOR=0.56; 95% CI=0.45-0.70) compared to Gen X. These differences may be related to measures of austerity and socioeconomic vulnerability. Millennials exhibited the highest vulnerability related to austerity with an average vulnerability score of 0.97 (95% CI=0.96-0.98) while Baby Boomers exhibited the lowest average vulnerability score of 0.65 (95% CI=0.64-0.66) with Generation X in between with 0.72 (95% CI=0.71-0.73). Increased social and economic vulnerability after the 2007 crisis is strongly associated with higher rates of substance use in all generations. Millennials have been especially affected by socioeconomic changes associated with the GFC as reflected by their heightened vulnerability and increased use of binge alcohol and other substances compared to preceding generations. These findings suggest that attention is needed to address disparities in socioeconomic vulnerability, relationships to substance use and overall mental health of Millennials to mitigate the potential long term negative impacts of the GFC. In the context of a continuing international opioid and heroin crisis, the ways in which Millennials have been differentially affected warrants much greater attention both from policymakers and from researchers.