Alcoholism is an extremely serious problem in our world today that leads to approximately 88,000 deaths each year in the United States alone.1 Alcohol-related deaths are the fourth-leading preventable cause of death in the United States.1 So understanding the dangers and warnings signs of alcoholism could make a big difference in reducing the risk of harm.2 It is also important that those addicted to alcohol and the ones who love them recognize the short- and long-term health effects associated with alcoholism.3
While drinking behavior may seem somewhat ubiquitous, the majority of alcohol consumption—and, consequently, the bulk of the associated harm—occurs in a relatively small portion of the population who drinks. An estimated 71% of Americans reported consuming alcohol in the past year,1 yet more than half of the alcohol in any given year is consumed by the top 10% of drinkers.4
Let’s dig into the data to get a clearer picture of drug addiction and alcoholism in the United States.
Statistics on Alcoholism in the U.S.
People Seek Treatment for Alcohol More than Any Other SubstanceAlcohol is the most abused drug among people in recovery, as Recovery Brands revealed with a 2017 survey. The survey found that nearly 70% of people in recovery got help with a drinking problem, and a shocking 52.87% of respondents sought the most treatment for alcohol abuse. Despite the wide variety of abused substances individuals seek treatment for, alcohol seems to cause the most widespread harm. Fortunately, recovery can start with one simple call.
In 2014, more than 16 million adults, or nearly 7% of the American adult population, had an alcohol use disorder.1 In addition, more than 5 million more partake in risky alcohol consumption, such as binge drinking, that could potentially lead to abuse.1
More than 8 million young people between the ages of 12 and 20 reported drinking alcohol beyond a few sips in the previous month they were surveyed.5 This is particularly worrying since compared to adult drinkers who started drinking around age 21, young people who begin drinking before the age of 15 are 4 times more likely to develop dependence on the drug.6
Research shows that the younger a person begins to drink, the more likely they will engage in harmful behaviors.5 In fact, nearly 40% of underage high school seniors have been drunk at some point and almost 20% reported drinking in excess of five drinks over the course of the previous two weeks.6 While rates of binge and heavy alcohol use among underage drinkers declined from 2002 and 2014, there are still more than 5 million youth who report being binge drinkers, and 1.3 million who report being heavy drinkers.7 These numbers reveal an alarmingly extensive problem and underscore the fact that alcohol is the most widely misused substance among America’s youth.8
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that in 2014 almost 57% of adults drank in the month prior to being surveyed and nearly 7% (or 16.3 million) of the American adult population have a drinking problem.1 Additionally, about 6% of seniors are considered heavy users of alcohol, suggesting alcohol-related problems are present among all ages.9
Based on these numbers, it is clear that alcoholism and alcohol abuse are serious problems that affect many people. Sadly, the numbers of those who actually get treatment for alcoholism and other alcohol-related problems are not nearly as high—in 2014, only 1.5 million adults received treatment at a specialized facility.1
By the Numbers: Men vs. Women
Studies consistently demonstrate that more men than women struggle with alcoholism and alcohol abuse. While 5.7 million women are affected by an alcohol use disorder in the United States, nearly twice as many men—about 10.6 million—are affected.1 With a little less than 6 million women struggling with alcoholism, this gender discrepancy obviously shouldn’t be taken to suggest that women are in the clear. Women may in fact need to be relatively more careful about their alcohol consumption because, due to gender differences in body structure and chemistry that result in them effectively absorbing more alcohol from their drinks, women can become more intoxicated more quickly than men when drinking comparable amounts of alcohol.10 In addition, women are more likely than men to experience problems related to alcohol, such as abusive relationships, unwanted sexual advances, and depression.11
Within the general female population, there are additional demographic groups likely to experience problems resulting from alcohol use and abuse. For example, it is hypothesized that some lesbians use alcohol to cope with the stigma of being gay, as well as with their internalized homophobia,12 and high rates of co-occurring eating disorders and alcohol use also disproportionately affect women.13
High-risk drinking rates are higher among ethnic minorities, too, particularly Native Americans and Hispanics.14 About 27% of Native American women and almost 20% of Black women report being daily heavy drinkers.14
Children Affected by a Parents’ Alcoholism
- In 2007, an estimated 76 million adult children of alcoholics lived in the United States.15
- In 2012, more than 10% of U.S. children lived with a parent with alcohol problems.1
The Problems Caused by Excessive Drinking
One of the major health issues resulting from excessive or binge drinking is liver disease. And beyond that, alcohol contributes to more than 200 diseases and injury-related health conditions, including cancers and injuries.1
In the United States, binge drinking is defined as a pattern of drinking that brings your blood alcohol concentration level to 0.08 g/dL or above within two hours.5 According to national surveys, about 92% of American adults who drink excessively reported binge drinking in the past 30 days.3 And although many binge drinkers are not dependent on alcohol, their drinking habits still make them prone to many health problems.3
- Binge drinking is more common among young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 years.3
- About 90% of alcohol consumed by underage drinkers is in the form of binge drinking.3
Excessive underage drinking has many consequences that affect college students across the United States, whether or not they choose to drink:
- Academic problems: Approximately 25% of college students reported falling behind, missing class, doing poorly on papers and exams, and receiving low grades as a result of drinking.16
- Alcohol abuse and dependence: About 20% of students meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder.16
- Assault: About 696,000 students aged 18 to 24 became victims of assault; the perpetrators in these cases were other students who had been drinking.16
- Death: About 1,825 college students aged 18 to 24 die from unintentional injuries related to alcohol.16
- Drunk driving: 85% of alcohol-impaired driving is associated with binge drinking.17
- Alcohol poisoning: Each year thousands of college students are transported to the emergency room because of alcohol poisoning, which can result in permanent brain damage or even death.16
- Health problems and suicide attempts: Suicide attempts are significantly higher in those who drink heavily compared with those who do not drink.17 Liver and other organ damage can result from long-term excessive drinking.16
- Injury: An estimated 10% of college students are injured because of drinking.17
- Police involvement: An estimated 112,000 students were arrested for an alcohol-related offense in a single year.18
- Property damage and vandalism: Many colleges in the United States have major or moderate problems with property damage resulting from alcohol use; making these claims are more than 50% of administrators from colleges with high drinking levels among students, and more than 25% of administrators from colleges with low student drinking levels.18
- Sexual abuse: Approximately 97,000 students aged 18 to 24 reported experiencing sexual assault or date rape as a result from alcohol use.16
- Unsafe sex: An estimated 8% of college students had unprotected sex as a result of their drinking.17
Given some of these consequences, it is clear that there is a strong relationship between crime and alcohol use. About 3 million violent crimes occur annually in the United States, and alcohol plays a role in 40% of them.19 Two-thirds of victims who have suffered domestic or partner violence reported there had been alcohol involved, and among cases of spousal violence, 3 out of 4 incidents involved an offender who had been under the influence of alcohol.19
How Abuse Affects One’s Health
The health problems related to alcohol abuse and alcoholism vary, but they are of great concern because of their severity. For example, a Harvard School of Public Health study showed that having 2 or more drinks a day increases the risk of developing breast cancer.20 Heavy alcohol use directly affects brain function and has been shown to induce mental disorders such as mood, anxiety, psychotic, sleep, and dementia disorders.21
In addition to mood and behavior changes, alcohol can affect thought, memory, and coordination. Excessive alcohol use can affect other organs such as the heart, liver, and pancreas, contributing to cardiomyopathy, irregular heartbeat, stroke, and high blood pressure.
- Liver cirrhosis can occur from heavy drinking as can alcohol hepatitis and liver fibrosis.
- Alcohol causes inflammation and swelling of the pancreas (pancreatitis), which can be painful and debilitating, and can prevent proper digestion.
- Alcohol abuse increases the risk of developing certain cancers of the mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, and breast as well as weakening the immune system, making the body more susceptible to various diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis.22
- Aside from injury, violence, alcohol poisoning, susceptibility to certain diseases, and mental health problems, alcohol dependence or alcoholism can develop from long-term use and result in social problems, such as job loss, family issues, and lost productivity to name a few.3
- Pregnant women who drink are at risk for miscarriage, stillbirth, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.3
- Alcohol use can interact with certain medications, increasing the risk of additional health problems or even death.3
- In adolescents, alcohol use can interfere with brain development.1
The Cost of Alcohol Addiction
- In 2013, almost half of the 72,559 liver disease deaths, including those resulting specifically from cirrhosis of the liver, involved alcohol.1
- Excessive alcohol use results each year in approximately 2.5 million years of potential life lost, or an average loss of 30 years for each fatality.3
- In 2010, more than 2.6 million hospitalizations were related to alcohol.23
- About 1/3 of deaths resulting from alcohol problems take the form of suicides and such accidents as head injuries, drowning incidents, and motor vehicle crashes.24
- About 20% of suicide victims in the United States involve people with alcohol problems.25
- In 2014, 30% of the country’s fatal traffic incidents were related to alcohol-impaired driving.26
- Among youth, underage drinking is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths each year and 189,000 emergency room visits for alcohol-related injuries and other conditions.8
- Excessive drinking was responsible for 1 in 10 deaths among adults between 20 and 64 years.
- In 2010, the economic impact of excessive alcohol use in the United States approached an estimated $249 billion.3
Financial Policies and Facility Offerings Are ImportantIn 2016, Recovery Brands collected data that asked patients who were leaving an addiction rehabilitation center what facility features they viewed as important things to take into account when considering treatment. The highest-rated priority was the facility’s financial policies, such as payment options, financial support, and insurance accepted. They also prioritized the facility’s offerings (recreation, comforts, quality of food) much more after experiencing treatment. If you’re looking for treatment, you may want to consider a program’s financial practices as well as the the facility’s offerings to help with your final treatment choice.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2016). Alcohol Facts and Statistics.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Rethinking Drinking, Alcohol & your health: What are symptoms of an alcohol use disorder?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Fact Sheets – Alcohol Use and Your Health.
- Ingraham, C. (2014). Think you drink a lot? This chart will tell you.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2016). Underage Drinking.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2006). Underage Drinking: Why Do Adolescents Drink, What Are the Risks, and How Can Underage Drinking Be Prevented?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). DrugFacts: High School and Youth Trends.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Underage Drinking.
- Rigler, S. K. (2000). Alcoholism in the Elderly. American Family Physician, 61(6), 1710–1716.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Fact Sheets – Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Women’s Health.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2015). Alcohol: A Women’s Health Issue.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Substance Use.
- Grilo C. M., Rajita S. & O’Malley S. S. (2002). Eating Disorders and Alcohol Use Disorders.
- Chartier K. & Caetano R. (n.d.). Ethnicity and Health Disparities in Alcohol Research.
- The Free Library. (2014). Risk factors among adult children of alcoholics.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2015). College Drinking.
- Jewett A., Shults R. A., Banerjee T. & Bergen G. (2015). Alcohol-Impaired Driving Among Adults—United States, 2012. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 64(30), 814–817.
- Task Force of the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2002). High-Risk Drinking in College: What We Know and What We Need to Learn, Final Report of the Panel on Contexts and Consequences.
- National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. (2016). Alcohol, Drugs and Crime.
- Harvard School of Public Health. (n.d.). Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits.
- Shivani R., Goldsmith R. J. & Anthenelli R. M. (2002). Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders: Diagnostic Challenges.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2013). Alcohol-Related Emergency Department Visits and Hospitalizations And Their Co-Occurring Drug-Related, Mental Health, And Injury Conditions In The United States: Findings From The 2006-2010 Nationwide Emergency Department Samples (NEDS) And Nationwide Inpatients Samples (NIS).
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI).
- Mental Health America. (n.d.). Suicide.
- U.S. Department of Transportation. (2014). Traffic Safety Facts 2014: A Compilation of Motor Vehicle Crash Data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the General Estimates System.