In fact, there’s never been a moment when alcohol wasn’t the most highly abused drug in the United States. According to a 2015 NIH study, over 16 million individuals in America have an alcohol use disorder — that’s 6.2% of the population. If you are struggling with alcohol recovery, you are certainly not alone.
Most people simply don’t drink too much. In fact, a third of Americans of legal drinking age don’t drink at all. However, of those that do drink, the top 10% consumes 50% of the total alcohol consumed in America — an average of ten drinks per person per day.
Although alcohol abuse can certainly lead toward alcohol dependence, they’re not the same thing. According to the CDC, only 10% of heavy drinkers are actually alcohol-dependent. Alcohol dependence has physical symptoms, including heightened tolerance, physical cravings, and withdrawal symptoms.
Children or grandchildren of those struggling with alcoholism are four times as likely to develop the disorder themselves. It’s not inevitable, though; about half of people with alcoholism in their family tree stay sober, especially those who choose to limit environmental factors that may lead to the slippery slope of addiction.
There’s also a gender component of alcoholism: Men become alcoholics at twice the rate observed in women. Tests indicate that men experience a greater dopamine rush than women, even when they consume the same amount of alcohol, which may explain the increased rate of alcoholism in men.
People don’t suddenly become alcoholics after one drink. And no one sits down and puts “become an alcoholic” on their monthly planner. Dependence is a slippery slope, and it takes time to develop noticeable health problems and loss of control.
We spend $230 billion each year on alcohol in America. But it’s not just the drinks themselves. Each year, the US incurs an additional $249 billion in costs related to alcohol abuse and misuse. That’s the equivalent of every drink having an extra $2.05 built into the price.
Alcohol kills around 88,000 Americans per year and injures another 200,000. Long-term chronic drinkers can experience debilitating – sometimes fatal – withdrawal symptoms, including high fever and tremors, if they attempt to quit without a doctor’s care.
Passing out becomes fairly obvious to everyone when the drinker falls down. On the other hand, a drinker experiencing a blackout may appear fully functional to others. But because alcohol inhibits the brain’s ability to store memories, someone who has blacked out will not remember events after the fact.
Drinking to feel better is a bad idea, because alcohol is classified as a depressant. It 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 even worse.
Making excuses for their drinking, tossing out their alcohol, or drinking with them to keep them from bingeing alone don’t help much at all. Although different clinical treatment methods work for different people, there’s are two common threads: the person has to see their alcohol use as a problem, and they have to learn to be accountable for their actions.
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol abuse, visit soberlink.com to learn about accountability through monitoring.
Jay Adams is a professional freelance writer.