With all the attention being paid to opioid addiction – and rightfully so – it might be easy to overlook the harmful effects of alcohol addiction. But excessive alcohol use results in 88,000 deaths per year in the US and contributes significantly to injuries as well as physical and mental illnesses. This makes alcohol abuse the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. and why April has been designated nationwide as Alcohol Awareness Month.
So what is excessive alcohol use? The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) views excessive drinking as including “binge drinking, heavy drinking, and any drinking by pregnant women or people younger than age 21.” Binge drinking for women is defined as consuming 4 or more drinks during a single occasion; for men, 5 or more drinks during a single occasion. Heavy drinking for women is defined as consuming 8 or more drinks per week; for men, 15 or more drinks per week.
Recent studies have indicated a rise in excessive alcohol consumption among US women, older adults, racial/ethnic minorities, and the socioeconomically disadvantaged. So how many Americans have an alcohol abuse disorder? It’s hard to really know because there is no official diagnosis of “alcoholism.” It is often diagnosed more through behaviors and adverse effects on functioning than by specific medical symptoms. Statistics can be gleaned from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) and other sources about the prevalence of alcohol use, alcohol use disorders, underage drinking, alcohol-related conditions, and fatalities.
Among people 18 years or older, an estimated 86.4 percent reported they had consumed alcohol at some point during their lives; 70.1 percent said they had a drink within the past 12 months and 56.0 percent said they drank alcohol within the past 30 days. The prevalence of heavy drinking, binge drinking, and alcohol use disorders are highest among men aged 18 to 24, and men who are unemployed.
Several studies have found that binge drinking was most common among non-Hispanics whites, those with some college education, and those with an annual family income $75,000 or more. In contrast, alcohol use disorders were most common among American Indians or Alaskan Natives, those having less than a high school education, and those with an annual family income of less than $25,000.
The great majority of individuals with alcoholism go unrecognized by physicians and health-care professionals because the person with alcohol use disorder is able to conceal the amount and frequency of drinking, deny problems caused by or made worse by drinking. However, there is gradual onset of the disease and effects on the body, and the body has the ability to adapt to increasing alcohol amounts up to a point.
People who drink alcohol to the point it interferes with their social life, professional life, or with their medical or mental health should contact a doctor to discuss the problem. The great difficulty lies in the fact that denial plays a large part in alcoholism. Consequently, alcoholics rarely seek professional help voluntarily.
Often a family member or employer convinces or forces the person with alcoholism to seek medical treatment. Even if an alcoholism sufferer accepts treatment because of pressure from family, an employer, or a medical professional, he or she can benefit from it. Treatment may help this person develop motivation to change the alcohol problem.
If you or someone you love has a problem with alcohol, it’s important to seek treatment. Help is available here at Community Health Connections, so please contact us to learn more.