What Is Alcoholism?
Before we jump into the facts about alcoholism, let’s first define what it means. Alcoholism, or Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), as it is more clinically known, is characterized by uncontrolled drinking due to physical and emotional dependence and preoccupation with alcohol. In some cases, it may also be referred to as alcohol dependence. Affecting more than 27 million individuals nationally, alcohol is the most abused drug in The United States.
Like other substances, AUD does not discriminate, and prolonged use can impact an individual far beyond physical health. Commonly known as a ‘family disease’, alcohol addiction often affects familial relationships, causing loved ones to lose trust in the person drinking excessively. To learn more about this particular chronic illness, read the following 15 facts.
1. AUD Is More Common Than You Think
Alcohol is the most widely abused drug in The United States. According to a 2019 National Institutes of Health study, more than 14.5 million individuals ages 12 and older have been diagnosed with AUD. In the same study, it is recorded that 8.3 million people suffer from drug addiction, nearly half the amount compared to AUD.
Despite these alarming statistics, only roughly 7.2 percent of people receive treatment. If you are struggling, you are certainly not alone, and help is available in alcohol monitoring or clinical treatment.
Due to increased stigma, those suffering from AUD are often experts at hiding their disease, which can prolong treatment. The following are a few main symptoms to look for if you fear you or your loved one is suffering from alcohol addiction:
- Discoloration under eyes or in the face
- Extreme nausea, vomiting, shaking, or other withdrawal signs
- Injuries, bruises, or other marks that are unexplainable
- Consuming alcohol alone or at inappropriate times like at work, while driving, or first thing in the morning
- Avoiding major responsibilities like work or school
- Drastic change in normal behavior
- Avoiding loved ones
2. The Chronic Illness Affects More Men Than Women
Though environmental, physical, and biological factors affect men and women equally, there is a higher rate of AUD in men than women. Specifically, nine million men have AUD compared to 5.5 million women. Some addiction treatment experts believe this is linked to increased dopamine released in men’s brains, though more current studies have found that the gap between men and women is slowly shrinking. Alcohol affects men more than women because dopamine creates addictive behaviors in our brains.
Men may suffer from AUD at a higher rate, but women have a higher chance of experiencing brain injury or other bodily damage after prolonged alcohol abuse, another result of the difference in the sex’s biology.
Regardless of sex or gender, abusing alcohol in any form can lead to AUD or other injury.
3. It Has a Genetic Component
If you have a parent or sibling struggling with alcoholism, you are four times more at risk of developing alcoholism than individuals without a family history. Geneticists believe genes from parents who struggle with alcoholism are passed down to their children. It is believed that AUD is 50 percent genetic, making those with it in their history extremely prone to the disease.
However, fewer than half of people actually develop AUD. The debate is still ongoing among Addiction Treatment Clinicians about whether a person’s genetic makeup or environment triggers alcohol abuse.
Though it has a genetic component, many believe other components put one equally or even more at risk for AUD. These include past trauma like abuse, poverty, or a history of anxiety or depression. Also, drinking at a young age or participating in binge drinking often can make one more prone to the disease. Any mix of these circumstances can result in AUD.
4. The Effects of Alcoholism Are Global
Alcoholism is not a disease that discriminates; it affects people all around the world.
According to a 2014 study by the World Health Organization, alcohol misuse was the first leading risk factor in premature deaths worldwide. Further, alcoholism contributed to 21.3 percent of deaths caused by liver cirrhosis, cardiovascular diseases, tuberculosis, pancreatitis, and HIV/AIDS.
Since the COVID-19 Pandemic, this number has continued to rise. Across the globe, alcohol is related to over 3 million deaths and, in the United States alone, the rate of deaths has risen to 52,000 people in 2021 (which is a 34% raise since before the pandemic).
5. Most Binge Drinkers Are Not Alcoholics
Binge drinking is defined as a pattern of drinking that brings up a person’s BAC to 0.08. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), you are considered a binge drinker if you are a male who consumes more than four alcoholic drinks in one day or a total of 15 or more in one week or a female who consumes more than three alcoholic drinks in one day or a total of eight or more in one week. The average binge drinker consumes eight alcoholic beverages per drinking session, regardless of sex.
An example of a binge drinking event could be a night out with friends or a celebratory dinner where large amounts of alcohol are consumed. However, binge drinking may not happen in big “celebratory” settings– it can occur in any situation and should be taken seriously.
Chronic Binge Drinking does not always suggest that someone has AUD but identifying and tracking these behaviors early on may be extremely helpful in preventing AUD in yourself or a loved one before it takes hold as repeatedly partaking in this behavior can lead to addiction.
6. Ten Percent of Drinkers Consume Over 50 Percent of the Alcohol
Twenty-four million Americans 18 years and older make up the top 10 percent of people who drink more than 50 percent of all alcohol. To be part of the top 10 percent, a person would have to drink two bottles of wine with every dinner or 74 alcoholic drinks per week. While this may sound outrageous and impossible, given the level of people suffering from AUD, it is true.
There is no denying that the more alcohol you drink, the more health problems you may face, such as alcohol poisoning. This dangerous statistic may put someone at risk for alcohol poisoning, organ and other bodily damage, and even death. If you notice that you or someone close to you may be drinking in excess, remote resources can help.
7. It’s Progressive
People don’t have one drink and suddenly become alcoholics. Alcohol dependence develops over time and depends on many different factors like genetics and other environmental factors.
Eventually, the more someone drinks, the more their bodies depend on alcohol, as what was once enough for someone slowly increases over time. The more you drink, the more likely you are to suffer from addiction and more severe health problems as alcohol is a highly addictive substance.
8. Blacking Out and Passing Out Are Not the Same Thing
A drinking-induced blackout is when you drink so much alcohol your brain becomes confused, and your memory becomes unreliable. Alcohol-induced blackouts occur in the hippocampus part of your brain, where memory consolidation happens, and it creates a blockage of long-term memory from forming. This is why people have bits and pieces of memory from the night when they black out.
A person experiencing a blackout can appear to be fully functional to others. However, they will likely not remember what happened at a later time.
Passing out is drinking to excess and becoming unconscious due to the alcohol (it may also be a result of alcohol poisoning). When passing out, a person may become unresponsive and, in the worst cases, may die from a related accident like choking on vomit.
Though they are different, blacking out and passing out are extremely dangerous and should not be taken lightly if you or a loved one experiences either.
9. The Opposite is Also True
Many people who abuse alcohol do so as an escape from their pasts, present, and possible future stressors; it is often relied on to help escape the stressors in their lives.
The alcoholic may remember too much and continue drinking to “forget” the shame of their actions due to their excessive use. A constant carousel of painful and intrusive thoughts can prompt a vicious drinking cycle that can be hard to escape.
10. Alcoholism is Expensive for the Drinker
Alcohol is a costly substance to continue to abuse. With inflation rising post-COVID-19 pandemic, the expense has jumped exponentially.
Utilizing the NIAA’s alcohol spending calculator, we average that someone who drinks six ten-dollar drinks five days a week will spend almost $16,000 a year just on alcohol. And this is on the conservative end of drinks for those with AUD.
This number can be astronomical for the dependent drinker, and many find themselves with financial problems due to excessive consumption. Severe financial issues may cause hardship in your home with your family, affect your work, and may even make getting and affording proper treatment much more complex, depending on the severity of an individual's alcoholism.
11. It’s Also Expensive for The Economy
Alcoholism is expensive for the addict and for our culture and economy as a whole. The most recent statistic from a study taken in 2006 notes that alcohol abuse and misuse cost The United States over 220 billion dollars. This includes medical costs and public funds expenditures like state-funded rehabilitation centers. Additionally, this accounts for lack of employees or poor productivity in a workplace due to alcohol addiction.
It’s likely substantially higher today, considering the global pandemic’s effects on individuals worldwide.
This will not change unless communities start advocating for those in their community who suffer from AUD. With resources potentially slim, starting in your small community and utilizing free resources like Alcoholics Anonymous may help alleviate some of the financial burden.
12. The Term “Alcoholism” Refers Specifically to Alcohol Dependence
People dependent on alcohol usually have increased tolerance and experience cravings and withdrawal. Alcoholism is an incessant need to keep drinking without the ability to stop, whereas some people who abuse alcohol partake in binge drinking often but have the ability to stop.
Others who misuse alcohol regularly may not have AUD but fall under the umbrella of “alcohol abuse.” Alcohol abuse can progress to alcohol dependence over time if not adequately regulated or managed.
Those who abuse alcohol are still at risk for alcohol-related injuries or risks, like liver and kidney damage or cancer, depending on the level of consumption.
13. Alcohol and Depression Don’t Mix
While many people drink to “feel better,” they will likely feel worse in the long run. Alcohol slows the central nervous system, which can compound depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental stress, especially in chronic drinkers. Our brains and bodies are programmed to react negatively to a substance like alcohol.
Drinking while taking antidepressants can make things significantly worse and have a deadly effect. It is crucial to talk to your care provider if you plan on drinking and taking antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication to learn about the possible side effects.
14. Alcoholism Can Be Fatal
Unfortunately, alcoholism or AUD can be fatal without proper care or treatment, whether from alcohol poisoning, an alcohol-related injury, or alcohol-related health issues (like liver failure or cancer).
Over 88,000 Americans lose their lives due to alcohol each year, at an average of 30 years premature. This includes 5,000 youth under 21 years old. Nearly 200,000 youth went to the ER in 2008 due to injuries sustained from alcohol abuse.
It is crucial to receive proper care if you fear you or a loved one may be following down this path. With the appropriate support, an individual can avoid alcohol-related fatality.
15. Many Traditional Methods of “Supporting” Alcoholics Are Not Beneficial
Some examples of “traditional” support can include: disposing of their alcohol, making excuses for their drinking, and drinking with them so they are not isolated. However, if someone is actually suffering from addiction, these behaviors may do just the opposite of support: enable them to keep drinking.
Different treatment methods work for different people, as AUD is an extremely individualized disease; each individual has their own reasons for drinking. However, one thing all addicts need to learn is to be accountable for their actions, though this can be a challenge.
If you are looking for a way to start the recovery process, manage your disease, and practice accountability, here are a few ways to get started today:
1. Soberlink’s Alcohol Monitoring Device
Soberlink alcohol monitoring technology is a comprehensive system that can help individuals and their families struggling with AUD. With an accountability tool like Soberlink that combines facial recognition, tamper detection, and real-time results into an alcohol testing device, individuals with AUD can provide documented proof of sobriety to their Recovery Circle, helping to rebuild trust and foster healthy relationships. Thanks to the innovative system, loved ones can rest assured that the person is safe, sober, and taking small steps each day to replace bad habits with good ones and improve their life.
2. Find an Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting
Since 1935, AA has been a place for alcoholics to meet to share their stories and struggles with addiction free of charge. Utilizing a 12-step program, AA is a place of camaraderie and assistance for those looking to get sober or stay sober, holding meetings all around the world, both in person and online.
To find a meeting near you, utilize their meeting finder on their website, and you can be at one today or tomorrow.
3. Lean on Your Friends and Family
Choosing to get sober is scary, and you should not have to do it alone. AUD is not a moral failing but a chronic disease affecting millions of Americans yearly. It is important to have people who love you support you through your recovery journey.
Reach out to your friends and family to simply let them in on the process or ask them to help keep you accountable. Regardless, find people who love you, want the best for you, and can help you remember that life without alcohol is possible.