Table of Contents
- Alcohol Addiction in the U.S.: The Causes, Symptoms, Effects, and Treatment
- What Is Alcoholism?
- What Amounts To Excessive Drinking?
- The Short-Term Health Risks of Alcohol Abuse
- The Long-Term Health Risks of Alcohol Abuse
- What Are the Indicators of Alcohol Addiction that Suggest Treatment Is Necessary?
- What Are the Signs, Symptoms, and Effects of Dependence on Alcohol?
- The Symptoms of Alcoholism
- The Effects of Alcoholism on the Body
- What Causes Alcohol Use Disorder?
- Who Is at Higher Risk for Alcoholism?
- The Treatment for Alcoholism Addiction
Alcohol Addiction in the U.S.: The Causes, Symptoms, Effects, and Treatment
Alcohol is a depressant and can be abused. Its use, especially at high levels, can lead to health problems including liver and kidney disease, heart problems, high blood pressure, stroke, and cancer. Alcohol abuse has become an epidemic in the U.S., with millions of people addicted nationwide.
What Is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive disease characterized by compulsive and uncontrolled consumption of alcoholic beverages. Alcoholism also causes a number of physical and mental problems that can be fatal if left untreated. The physical effects of alcoholism can cause damage to the liver, stomach, and pancreas.
The neurological effects of alcoholism include confusion and memory loss. Alcoholism also causes a number of social problems, such as loss of job, divorce, and financial difficulties.
A person with alcoholism can be treated in various ways, including psychotherapy and medications to help control the craving for alcohol. Alcoholism, if left untreated will lead to a myriad of physical ailments, damaged organs and, ultimately, premature death.
What Amounts To Excessive Drinking?
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines “excessive drinking” as binge drinking, heavy drinking, or any alcohol use by pregnant women or people younger than age 21. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans define binge drinking as consuming four or more drinks in a sitting.
Binge drinking is a pattern of high-risk alcohol use that brings the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. Binge drinking is associated with a wide range of health and social problems, including injuries and deaths from car crashes and other accidents, sexual assaults, violence, and suicide.
Binge drinking is also associated with many health problems such as cardiovascular disease, liver disease, mental health conditions (particularly depression), and even cancer. Binge drinking is most common among young adults aged 18 to 34 years. Young adults are more likely than older adults to binge drink because they are the least experienced drinkers and tend to be less aware of the risks associated with heavy drinking.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 g/dL or above, a number generally referred to as “legally drunk” by the vast majority of states for the purpose of DUI’s. For women, this typically corresponds to consuming four or more drinks in about 2 hours; for men, it typically corresponds to five or more drinks in about 2 hours.
Surveys by various state Department of Motor Vehicles have found that:
- About one in six young people aged 12 to 20 report binge drinking.
- It is more common among young adults aged 21 to 25 (44 percent) than among any other age group.
- It is more common among young adults than among young people aged 12 to 20 (17 percent).
- it is more common among young adults than among young people aged 12 to 20 (17 percent).
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), moderate drinking is defined as no more than one drink per day for women of any age and men older than 65, and no more than two drinks per day for men aged 65 and younger.
The Short-Term Health Risks of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol abuse poses serious risks to the health and well-being of people. In fact, alcohol is a leading cause of preventable death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 100,000 people die every year in the U.S. as a result of alcohol abuse. The CDC also reports that nearly half of all traffic-related deaths are caused by drunk drivers.
Treatment for alcohol addiction and abuse is available, but it is important to realize that alcohol abuse can be fatal if left untreated. Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, is a chronic condition that can lead to serious health problems and even death if left untreated.
Alcoholism is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as a “primary, chronic disease characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking.”
A person who abuses alcohol may not be an alcoholic, but that does not mean the person is immune to the effects of alcohol. Alcohol abuse can lead to serious health problems and even death in some cases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) further reports that in the U.S., 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes every year. In addition to this, heavy drinking can lead to liver disease, heart disease, and cancer. 30% of all deaths among working-age adults between 20 and 64 years old are related to alcohol use. This means that approximately one in every 10 deaths among working-age adults between these ages is due to alcohol use.
Also, it is estimated that alcohol abuse costs the U.S. economy $185 billion annually in lost productivity, healthcare, and criminal justice expenses. One out of every 13 deaths among working-age adults between the ages of 20 and 64 years old is due to alcohol use.
The CDC also reports that about 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually. The CDC estimates that approximately one in every three college students engages in binge drinking, which means they have five or more drinks within two hours.
According to the CDC, more than half of all Americans have a close friend or family member who has had problems with alcohol. The drinking age in the United States is 21 years old. However, many young people begin drinking during their teenage years.
The effects of alcohol abuse can be devastating, and they are not limited to the person who is abusing it. Alcohol-related problems affect friends, family members, co-workers, and the community as a whole. The first step in overcoming alcohol addiction is to recognize that there is a problem. If you are concerned about your own drinking, or that of someone you know, the following questions may help.
The Long-Term Health Risks of Alcohol Abuse
Below are some of the long-term issues of alcohol addiction:
- cancer of the mouth, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast
- compromised immune system
- decreased attention span
- difficulty forming thoughts
- heart damage
- hormonal imbalances
- Korsakoff’s psychosis (aka “wet brain”)
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- nerve damage
- stomach ulcers
- trouble with balance
- Wernicke’s encephalopathy
What Are the Indicators of Alcohol Addiction that Suggest Treatment Is Necessary?
The answers to these questions will provide a better understanding of your drinking habits and help you decide if your drinking is a cause for concern and determine whether or not alcohol use has become an addiction:
- Do I ever drink in order to get rid of the unpleasant effects of withdrawal?
- Have I ever tried to control my drinking and been unsuccessful?
- Do I have a strong desire, urge to drink, or craving that I find hard to control?
- Do I ever drink in order to get rid of the unpleasant effects of withdrawal?
- Have there been times when I couldn’t remember what happened the night before because I had been drinking?
- Have there been times when I drank even though it caused trouble with my family or friends?
- Have there been times when I needed a first drink of the day to get myself going after a night of heavy drinking?
- Have there been times when I felt bad or guilty about my drinking?
- Have there been times when I needed a drink so badly that I couldn’t think of anything else?
- Have there been times when people annoyed me and I felt like telling them to go away, but instead, I got drunk?
- Have there been times when I spent a lot of time drinking or being sick from drinking?
- Have there been times when I needed a drink in the morning to get rid of a hangover or to get rid of a bad headache?
- Have there been times when I tried to keep from getting drunk by having several drinks at once or by drinking as much as I could as fast as possible?
- Have there been times when I felt that a person, place, or thing would help me not feel the need for alcohol?
- Have there been times when I tried to get rid of my drinking problem by giving up alcohol for a short time?
- Have there been times when I tried to get other people to drink or not to drink alcohol?
- In the past year, how many times have you driven a car or other vehicle after drinking alcohol?
- Have there been times when you had a good reason to drink alcohol and did not?
- In the past year, how many times have you taken an alcoholic beverage with a meal that contained food?
- In the past year, how many days have you had at least one drink of alcohol?
- When I drink alcohol, I sometimes drink more than I plan to.
- Have there been times when you felt that you should cut down on your drinking?
- Have you or someone else been injured as a result of your drinking?
- In the past year, have you had an alcohol-related legal problem as a result of your drinking?
- Have you ever been arrested or taken into custody for being drunk, disorderly, or otherwise disturbing the peace when drinking?
- Have you ever had a drinking problem, but not in the past year?
- How often does someone else have to take care of you or watch over you when drinking?
- Have your friends and family members ever told you that you drink too much?
What Are the Signs, Symptoms, and Effects of Dependence on Alcohol?
Some of the main signs and symptoms of alcohol dependence are:
- Repeated unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control drinking.
- Withdrawal symptoms when not using alcohol (e.g., nausea, sweating, shakiness).
- Alcohol tolerance (i.e., the need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to feel its effects).
- Drinking in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended.
- A pattern of drinking that continues despite having persistent or recurrent social, psychological, or physical problems caused by the alcohol use.
Alcohol dependence can also be indicated by:
- Drinking in dangerous situations.
- Inability to remember what happened while drinking (amnesia).
- Continuing to drink despite having persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problems that are caused by or made worse by drinking.
Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:
- A need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect.
- A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.
Alcoholism is a disease that can be fatal, but it has many symptoms and causes. The most common symptom of alcoholism is drinking too much alcohol on an ongoing basis. Most people who drink alcohol do so in moderation and don’t experience any problems. However, some people drink too much over time and develop alcoholism.
The Symptoms of Alcoholism
The symptoms of alcohol use disorder vary from person to person, depending on the amount of alcohol consumed and how long a person has had an alcohol problem. Symptoms may include:
- Tolerance: The need to drink more alcohol to feel the same effect.
- Withdrawal: Feeling shaky, sick or irritable when not drinking.
- Drinking more than intended: Drinking in risky situations, such as driving, or drinking in the morning to stave off withdrawal symptoms.
- Skipping work or school: Drinking so much that it interferes with daily responsibilities.
- Continuing to drink despite problems: Relationship troubles, such as arguments with a spouse or trouble at work.
- Lying about drinking: Hiding alcohol use from others and lying about how much was consumed.
- Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating and shaking.
- Reckless behavior: Engaging in risky sexual behavior or driving while intoxicated.
The Effects of Alcoholism on the Body
Alcoholism can have a negative impact on many areas of the body. The liver is one of the organs most affected by alcohol abuse. Alcohol affects how quickly your liver breaks down toxins in your body. When you drink alcohol, your liver increases the production of certain enzymes that break down toxins in your body. This is called “detoxification.”
The longer and more often a person drinks alcohol, the more their liver has to work. This can result in damage to the liver cells and lead to scarring of the liver tissue. Alcohol addiction also damages your brain.
The areas of the brain that control judgment and decision-making are damaged. In addition, alcohol can damage nerve cells in your brain that help you see and hear clearly. It also damages your heart. Alcohol damages the heart muscle and can cause irregular heartbeat. It also increases your blood pressure, which can damage blood vessels in your brain, heart, and kidneys.
What Causes Alcohol Use Disorder?
The exact cause of alcohol use disorder is not known. Several factors play a role in the development of this disorder, including:
- Genetics – People with an alcoholic family member are more likely to become alcoholics.
- Environment – People who are around heavy drinkers or people who live in places where alcohol is easily available may be more likely to develop an addiction.
- Stress – Alcohol can temporarily relieve stress, but it usually causes more problems in the long run.
- Depression – People who are depressed may be more likely to drink alcohol as a way of coping with their feelings.
The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol (e.g., nausea, vomiting, tremor, sweating). Alcohol (or a closely related substance, such as a benzodiazepine) is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms. “The more of these criteria are present, the more likely it is that a person has an alcohol use disorder” (NIAAA).
Who Is at Higher Risk for Alcoholism?
People who are at higher risk for alcoholism include those with one or more of the following characteristics:
- Those who have a family history of alcohol abuse, including parents and siblings.
- The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that genetics account for 50% to 60% of the risk factors involved in developing alcoholism.
- The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 40% of all alcoholics have at least one close relative with the disease.
- People who are dependent on other drugs, such as cocaine or heroin. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that people addicted to drugs are three times more likely to become alcoholics than those who do not use drugs.
- The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that people addicted to nicotine are twice as likely to develop alcoholism.
- The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that people who have experienced physical or sexual abuse are three times more likely to become alcoholics.
The Treatment for Alcoholism Addiction
There are many treatment options available for alcohol addiction. Some people may choose to seek help from their primary care physician, who can provide information about treatment options and refer them to specialists for further evaluation.
Others may choose a residential treatment program that provides a safe, structured environment for recovery. Treatment programs are available in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Inpatient treatment involves living at the facility for an extended period of time, while outpatient treatment allows people to attend support groups and individual therapy sessions on a regular basis.
The most effective treatment for alcohol addiction is participation in an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program, which has been shown to reduce the risk of relapse by up to 80 percent. AA is a support group that helps people recover from addiction through the use of peer support and spirituality, but it does not provide medical assistance or professional therapy.
Inpatient and outpatient treatment programs are available at a variety of facilities, including hospitals, clinics, and rehabilitation centers. These programs vary in terms of the number of people they serve on a daily basis, their length, and the degree of medical supervision they provide.
The most effective treatment for alcohol addiction is participation in an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program, which has been shown to reduce the risk of relapse by 50 to 90 percent.
The most effective treatment for alcohol addiction is participation in an inpatient treatment program, which has been shown to reduce the risk of relapse by 50 to 90 percent. Inpatient and outpatient treatment programs that follow the 12-step model of AA are also effective, but less so than AA.
Studies have shown that people who participate in these types of treatment programs are more likely to abstain from alcohol use and to do so for longer periods of time. Researchers have also found that combining pharmacological treatment with behavioral treatments is more effective than either type of treatment alone. Pharmacological treatments include naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram.