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Alcoholism Facts and Statistics

Alcohol is one of the most popular beverages in the world, but also the most harmful. It is part of our culture; it plays a role in celebrations, in socializing, and even in religious ceremonies. However, drinking too much alcohol can affect how we think and feel — potentially leading to accidents or addiction. In 2014, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 9,967 deaths. In the U.S., an estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually. Furthermore alcohol can negatively affect bodily organs, the immune system, and increase the risk of developing cancers of the mouth, esophagus, pharynx, liver and breast. It can affect everyone differently depending on their genetic background, family history, environment, and other lifestyle factors. Research shows that low-risk drinking levels for men are no more than 4 drinks a day and 14 drinks a week, while low-risk drinking levels for women are no more than 3 drinks a day and 7 drinks a week. Be mindful that low-risk does not mean no risk. Drinking more than the low-risk drinking levels can place a person at increased risk for developing Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) or alcoholism.

AUD and alcoholism are often used interchangeably to describe recurring alcohol consumption that causes significant impairment and an inability to meet responsibilities. However AUD can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe based on the diagnostic criteria a person meets. For example; how much they drink, how long they’ve been drinking for, or the type of alcohol they drink. Alcoholism is more simply described as the uncontrollable urge to drink. In 2015, 15.1 million adults ages 18 or older had AUD including 9.8 million men and 5.3 million women. Only 1.3 million adults received treatment for AUD at a specialized facility. In the same year, an estimated 623,000 adolescents ages 12-17 had AUD and only 37,000 received treatment. The popularity of alcohol consumption in the U.S. is primarily why it’s difficult for people with AUD to seek care and also why it’s so difficult to stop drinking.

As a person progresses through the stages of alcoholism, they develop a greater addiction to alcohol. The early stages of alcoholism are characterized by drinking more than usual, and consuming alcohol to reduce stress or negative feelings. People in this stage might not be conscious that they’re using alcohol to feel happier or realize how much they’re consuming. Their tolerance to alcohol will also increase, and in turn they’ll have to keep increasing the amount they drink to feel the positive effects. In the middle stage, people begin to become dependent on alcohol. They’ll suffer withdrawal symptoms if they quit drinking and subsequently will avoid withdrawal by continuing to drink. This stage is also associated with drinking in secret, increases in unpredictable behavior, and problems in relationships, school, or the workplace. People in this stage begin to realize that they’ve lost control of their drinking, but can be afraid to admit to themselves and to others that they have a problem. The late stages of alcoholism are associated with physical and mental health problems. Liver, respiratory, and heart problems are common as well as depression and anxiety. People in the late stages are usually on the verge of losing their jobs, failing in school, or ruining relationships with their friends and family due to alcohol becoming the most important priority in their lives.

According to the NIAAA, alcohol consumption caused a total of 3.3 million deaths in 2012. The long-term effects of drinking frequently and heavily takes a toll on the body. Alcohol shrinks and disturbs brain tissues and can potentially cause fatal brain disorders. Long-term heavy drinking weakens the heart muscle. This causes a condition called alcoholic cardiomyopathy in which the heart can’t pump enough blood to sufficiently nourish the organs. How quickly a heart beats is also affected, and can become either too quick or irregular. This results in conditions like arrhythmia in which blood clots and is prevented from circulating throughout the body. These problems, further exacerbated by alcohol, can potentially lead to a stroke in which blood cannot reach the brain.

In the U.S. liver disease is one of the leading causes illness and death. In 2013, 45.8 percent of the total 72,559 liver disease deaths involved alcohol. The liver breaks down most of the alcohol a person consumes but also generates by-products which can damage liver cells, promote inflammation, and weaken the body’s immune defenses. Fibrosis, a liver condition associated with heavy drinking, causes scar tissue to build up in the liver. If you continue to drink, this scar tissue builds up and creates a condition called cirrhosis, which is deterioration of the liver. Among all cirrhosis deaths in 2013, 47.9 percent were alcohol related, with the highest proportion of deaths among persons ages 25-34.

Current research shows that the more you drink, the higher your risk is for developing certain cancers. Data from 2009 indicates that about 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths in the U.S. (about 19,500 deaths) were alcohol related. People who consume about 3.5 or more drinks a day have at least a 2 or 3 times greater risk of developing head or neck and colorectal cancers. Women who drink more than 3 drinks a day have 1.5 times the risk of developing breast cancer as nondrinkers. The National Cancer Institute identifies alcohol as a risk factor for mouth, esophagus, pharynx, larynx, liver, and breast cancer. Furthermore, as mentioned, long-term alcohol abuse also increases a person’s risk for social consequences such as unemployment, relationships problems, and even violent and aggressive behavior.

Although rates of alcohol abuse have reportedly declined from 18.1 million in 2002 to 17.3 million in 2013, an estimated 22 million people need treatment for alcohol and other drug use, but less than 1 percent of them receive substance abuse treatment. The support of family and friends can help a person suffering from alcoholism realize that they need treatment. Sometimes an interventionist might be needed in the case where they are resistant or in denial that they need to stop drinking. Once they are ready for treatment, the first step toward recovering involves cleansing the body, or detoxification. Medications might also be necessary to aid a patient during treatment, followed with counseling and therapy. Counseling and therapy will help the patient find the motivation to identify and overcome the underlying causes of their addiction. A few of the most effective forms of therapy for alcohol addiction are CBT, multidimensional family therapy, support groups, and motivational incentives such as a reward for positive behaviors like abstinence. Alcoholism and AUD are considered chronic conditions, and are often characterized as having periods of relapse. The key to preventing relapse is resistance and consistency in recovery treatment, as well as having a strong support system of friends and family.