Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States: 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage in risky, binge drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems.
More than half of all adults have a family history of alcoholism or problem drinking, and more than 7 million children live in a household where at least one parent is dependent on or has abused alcohol.
Alcohol abuse and alcoholism can affect all aspects of a person’s life. Long-term alcohol use can cause serious health complications, can damage emotional stability, finances, career, and impact one’s family, friends and community.
Facts About Alcohol:
- 88,000 deaths are annually attributed to excessive alcohol use
- Alcoholism is the 3rd leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the nation
- Excessive alcohol use is responsible for 2.5 million years of potential life lost annually, or an average of about 30 years of potential life lost for each death
- Up to 40% of all hospital beds in the United States (except for those being used by maternity and intensive care patients) are being used to treat health conditions that are related to alcohol consumption
Alcoholism is an addiction with a simple definition (a chronic disease in which the body becomes dependent upon alcohol), complex causes, and effects that can range from destructive to deadly.
We’ve all seen how people act when they’ve had too much to drink. Their speech slurs, they lose their inhibitions, their coordination fails, and they often say or do things they later regret.
Though these short-term effects can be embarrassing or socially awkward, the long-term effects can be devastating.
- Alcohol attacks virtually every major organ of the body, such as the heart, liver and brain.
- Alcoholics often suffer irreversible liver damage, including life-threatening conditions such as cirrhosis, liver cancer, and alcoholic hepatitis.
- Alcohol raises blood pressure, damages the heart and causes problems in the gastro-intestinal system, such as cancers of the throat and stomach, and stomach ulcers.
- Alcohol causes men to become sexually impotent, and is a risk factor for breast cancer in women.
- Pregnant women who drink alcohol risk giving birth to babies with deformities and mental disabilities.
The Difference Between Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism
Though the terms “alcohol abuse” and “alcoholism” are associated, it is important to understand the clear line of demarcation between abusing alcohol and being addicted to alcohol. To put this as succinctly as possible, alcohol abuse is a behavior, while alcoholism is a disease.
Many people are able to drink alcohol in moderate amounts without becoming addicted to or dependent upon this drug. Some people are even able to engage in alcohol abuse (for example, binge drinking or drinking past the point of intoxication) without developing alcoholism.
Alcohol abuse is clearly not a healthy behavior. It can lead to a number of negative outcomes, including sickness (such as alcohol poisoning), developmental disorders (in children of mothers who drink while pregnant), injuries and death (for example, auto accidents caused by drivers who were operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol).
However, alcohol abuse is not the same as alcoholism.
Alcoholism, addiction to alcohol, and alcohol dependence are all terms that are used to describe the chronic condition in which a person’s body becomes dependent upon alcohol. Some people who abuse alcohol may be able to stop — alcoholics cannot.
Warning Signs & Symptoms of Alcoholism
The following are among the more common symptoms of alcoholism:
- Becoming obsessed with alcohol — for example, feeling compelled to drink, constantly thinking about drinking, and continually planning when and where to drink
- Being unable to limit or control the amount or frequency of one’s drinking
- Being unable to stop drinking once one begins (in other words, being incapable of having “just one drink” or drinking socially in small amounts)
- Binge drinking (for men, having five or more alcohol drinks in one session; for women, having three or more drinks in one session) on a regular basis
- Drinking alone, drinking in secret, and hiding or lying about the amount and frequency of one’s drinking
- Developing tolerance to alcohol (which means that a person needs to drink increasingly large amounts of alcohol in order to experience the same “high” or rush that previously resulted from less alcohol)
- Experiencing negative outcomes directly related to one’s drinking — including lost or failed relationships, employment or financial problems, and legal consequences
- Continuing to drink alcohol even after experiencing these negative outcomes
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms – often painful physical experiences such as cramping, shaking, becoming nauseous, and sweating profusely — when unable to have a drink.
- Having “black outs” — which means being incapable of what one said or did when drinking
- Losing interest in activities and hobbies and other experiences (including spending time with friends and loved ones) that once brought great pleasure
- Hiding alcohol around the house, office, or even in the car in order to never be far away from alcohol when the urge to drink becomes too strong to resist
Treatment for alcoholism may include the following therapies and techniques:
- Individual therapy
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
- 12-Step Programs
- Relapse-prevention instruction
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
- Biofeedback & Neurofeedback
- Medication management
- Anger management
- Recreation therapy
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: Drugs, Brains, and Behavior – The Science of Addiction
- National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
- National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Narcotics Anonymous
Adapted from: CRC Health – Addiction Treatment Centers, http://www.crchealth.com/
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence https://www.ncadd.org/
American Psychiactric Association,https://www.psychiatry.org
American Psychological Association, https://www.APA.org
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) https://www.drugabuse.gov/