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. Affecting more than 27 million individuals nationally, alcohol is the most abused drug in The United States.
Much like other substances, AUD does not discriminate, and prolonged use can impact an individual far beyond just their 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 the 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 study by the National Institutes of Health, more than 14.5 million individuals ages 12 and older have been diagnosed with 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.
2. The Chronic Illness Affects More Men Than Women
Nine million men have AUD compared to 5.5 million women. Some Addiction Treatment experts believe this is linked to an increased amount of dopamine released in their brains. However, more current studies have found the gap between men and women is slowly shrinking.
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 this family history. Geneticists believe that genes from parents who struggle with alcoholism are passed down to their children. However, fewer than half of people actually develop AUD. The debate is still ongoing amongst Addiction Treatment Clinicians about whether a person’s genetic makeup or environment triggers alcohol abuse.
4. The Effects of Alcoholism Are Global
According to a 2014 study by the World Health Organization, alcohol misuse was the first leading risk factor in premature deaths around the world. Further, alcoholism contributed to 21.3 percent deaths caused by liver cirrhosis, cardiovascular diseases, tuberculosis, pancreatitis, and HIV/AIDS.
5. Most Binge Drinkers Are Not Alcoholics
Binge drinking is defined as a pattern of drinking that brings up a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08. 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.
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.
6. Ten Percent of Drinkers Consume Over 50 Percent of the Alcohol
24 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. There is no denying that the more alcohol you drink, the more health problems you may face, such as alcohol poisoning. If you notice that you or someone close to you may be drinking in excess, remote recourses can help.
7. It’s Progressive
People don’t have one drink and suddenly become alcoholics. Dependence develops over time. Eventually, the more someone drinks, the more their bodies depend on alcohol, ultimately leading to addiction and more severe health problems.
8. Blacking Out and Passing Out Are Not the Same Thing
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. This is because alcohol dependence affects the brain’s ability to store long-term memories.
9. The Opposite is Also True
The alcoholic may remember too much and continue drinking to “forget” the shame of what they have done due to their excessive use. A constant carousel of painful and intrusive thoughts can prompt a vicious drinking cycle that can be hard to get out of.
10. Alcoholism is Expensive
In the most recent statistic from a study taken in 2006, alcohol abuse and misuse cost The United States over 220 billion dollars. This includes such things as medical costs and public funds expenditures. It’s likely substantially higher today, considering the effects a global pandemic had on individuals worldwide.
11. It’s Also Expensive for the Drinker
Purchase just five drinks each week at $6 each, and it adds up to $1,560 for the year. This number can be astronomical for the dependent drinker, and many find themselves with financial problems as a result of excessive consumption.
12. The Term “Alcoholism” Refers Specifically to Alcohol Dependence
People who are dependent on alcohol usually have increased tolerance and experience cravings and withdrawal. 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.
13. Alcohol and Depression Don’t Mix
While many people drink to “feel better,” in the long run they will likely feel worse. Alcohol slows the central nervous system, which can compound depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental stress, especially in chronic drinkers. Drinking while taking antidepressants can make things significantly worse and can have a deadly effect.
14. Alcoholism Can Be Fatal
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 as a result of alcohol abuse.
15. Many Traditional Methods of “Supporting” Alcoholics Are Not Beneficial
Examples of support can include: disposing of their alcohol, making excuses for their drinking, and drinking with them so that they are not isolated. Different treatment methods work for different people, but the person has to learn to be accountable for their actions.
AUD is not a moral failing but a chronic disease that affects millions of Americans every year. Thanks to advancements in technology, however, there is hope for those struggling. 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.
About the Author
Kathleen Esposito is a certified addictions counselor in the Pacific Northwest. She helps individuals recover from drug, alcohol and gambling dependencies through group and individual therapy and regularly speaks at treatment centers.