Alcohol Addiction and Abuse

Many adults like to relax at the end of a hard day or workweek with a drink or two. There’s nothing wrong with that. Alcohol consumption is generally a social activity that’s common in many cultures around the world. However, when occasional use turns into abuse and alcohol addiction, it can ruin lives.

More About Alcohol Abuse

How does one know if they have a drinking problem, and what can friends or family members do to help?

Alcohol Addiction: One of America’s Biggest Problems

Recent reporting indicates that about 16 million people over the age of 12 are struggling with some level of alcohol dependence in the US alone. That’s eight times the national rate for opioid abuse, and the numbers continue to climb each year. The rate of alcohol use disorder (AUD) grew by 49 percent in the first decade of the 2000s.

This makes alcohol America’s number one substance abuse problem.

Alcohol Abuse Statistics and Facts You Should Know

We’ve thrown some pretty heavy statistics at you in other sections of this information page. Here are a few more to ponder from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Alcohol misuse doesn’t just affect someone who drinks to excess. It also has an economic and social impact that goes far beyond one’s immediate environment. Globally, alcohol misuse resulted in more than three million deaths in 2013 alone. Alcohol is the 5th leading indicator in premature death and disability, and it’s a factor in more than 200 separate health issues. This includes liver disease, cancer, and a host of preventable injuries.

In the United States, more than 88,000 people die from alcohol-related issues each year. It’s also a contributing factor in more than one-third of all traffic fatalities. That makes alcohol the third largest cause of preventable deaths behind tobacco and a poor diet.

Then, there’s the financial impact of AUD and related disorders.

Alcohol abuse and related issues cost the US $249.0 billion in 2010, according to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. That price includes lost productivity at work, property destruction, legal problems, and medical or rehabilitation treatment for AUD and associated health problems.

The Impact of Underage Drinking

Not only is alcohol misuse hurting adults, but it’s also devastating to our children. More than 10 percent of American kids live in a home affected by alcohol dependency. This causes a generational effect because children of alcoholics have a greater than 50 percent chance of developing a substance use disorder themselves. Early onset drinking is also a warning sign of future addiction. About 20 percent of college students meet the mental health assessment criteria for alcohol dependence or addiction.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) occurs when a pregnant woman drinks. No one knows what amount of alcohol consumption – if any – is safe for a developing fetus. But, the resulting genetic development issues can impact children for life, affecting their behavior and ability to learn. They also have higher rates of addiction problems. One study determined that children of alcoholics have a smaller amygdala. This is the portion of the brain that controls emotional development and abnormal serotonin levels. The genetic predisposition to alcohol misuse leads to an inability to recognize the signs of over-drinking.

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Why Is Alcohol Addictive?

As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol makes those who imbibe feel relaxed and at ease while lowering their inhibitions. This is why you’ll see depictions in film and on TV of people unwinding over drinks or having a little something before engaging with others in a social setting. It’s also one of the components of alcohol use that make it so habit-forming, and it contributes to risky behavior.

Frequent use changes the way the brain functions on a cellular level by increasing the signaling of the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) inhibitors. This is the same function that makes anti-anxiety medications and sedatives so effective; GABA is the main inhibiting neurotransmitter in the brain. Habitual drinking causes the brain to become more reliant on outside stimulation to function properly, and those who try to quit drinking or drugging will experience withdrawal from addictive substances.

First, tolerance builds up in the user, meaning they require more alcohol or drugs to gain the desired effect. Eventually, they become physically and/or psychologically dependent on substances just to feel normal. Not everyone who drinks becomes addicted. However, long-term or heavy use eventually leads to health, financial, and emotional problems in about one in eight people.

The Social Component of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol is, above all else, a very social drug. Friends meet for drinks, it’s used in most celebrations, and even those who don’t normally drink will raise a glass on New Year’s Eve. Not everyone who does so will develop alcoholism, but the social aspects of alcohol use and active encouragement from all corners to “relax and have a drink” make staying sober more difficult.

The other side of the social elements of drinking to excess is the effect it has on families and society as a whole. Alcohol misuse is a contributing factor in poor health, poverty rates, unemployment, divorce, and a host of other social ills.

Is All Alcohol Equal?

Alcohol is brewed or fermented in a range of flavors, varieties, and strengths. When someone is deep into alcohol addiction, almost any beverage will do. However, some feel that drinking weaker forms of the substance is okay regardless of how much they consume.

Alcoholism can develop as easily in someone who sips sherry as it can with the person who pounds down shots and chases them with beer. It isn’t the beverage of choice that’s the issue, it’s the disease.

The Problem of Binge Drinking

As we touched upon earlier, youth drinking is a serious problem. Although alcohol abuse statistics cover those ages 12 and up, there is a major problem on college campuses in the US and elsewhere: binge drinking.

This type of drinking involves consuming large amounts of alcohol within a very short time period at parties or other social gatherings, and it was once a right of passage for college students. The problem mainly affects individuals between the ages of 18 and 24, but it’s increasing among high school-age children. A 2015 study conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)found that 37.9 percent of college students indulged in binging on alcohol during the previous month. That’s five percentage points higher than other individuals in the same age range, and the annual rate of this type of excess occurs with more than five million people over the age of 12.

Each year, binging on alcoholic beverages contributes to:

  • Nearly three-quarters of the total economic cost of alcohol misuse
  • More than 696,000 student assaults
  • Nearly 2,000 deaths of college-age kids
  • About 190,000 on-campus sexual assaults

Is There Help for Substance Use Disorders?

One of the first organized platforms to offer support for recovering alcoholics is Alcohol Anonymous. Since the creation of this program, millions of substance abusers have found a new purpose and meaning to life. The 12-step model that the program is based around has been replicated by groups supporting narcotic recovery, eating disorders, and other addictions.

However, AA is not the only game in town. Since research has surfaced regarding the links between everything from liver disorders to birth defects, those in the recovery community have sought various therapies and methods to help alcoholics find meaning in sobriety. These options range from behavioral to alternative therapies in settings that are conducive to wellness.

You’re not alone. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) reported that 815,390 called their helpline in 2017. If you or someone you care about needs recovery assistance, there’s a compassionate place in your community that will match your needs, Lifestyle, and wellness goals.

Contact Stepping Stone and Get Help Today

Do you have questions about alcohol addiction? Call us at  1-866-957-4960 or fill out the form below and our admissions coordinators will answer any question that you may have about treatment options available to you.

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