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How Common Is Alcoholism In America?
In America, drinking alcohol is not only common but the norm. An estimated 86% of people over the age of 18 have consumed alcohol at some point in their lives. It’s the most widely abused drug, not just in America but in the world.
This could be due to many reasons, including how early drinking is introduced in American culture and its accessibility. Not surprisingly, the rate of alcoholism is also high in the United States. Unfortunately, many people still view alcoholics as “bad people” and aren’t educated on the disease of alcoholism.
Here we look at the American alcohol culture, groups of people susceptible to alcoholism, a closer look at rates of alcoholism in the U.S., the misplaced idea that alcoholics are bad people, symptoms of alcoholism, and how to get help for alcohol addiction.
Alcohol in America
Like many other substances, our knowledge of alcohol has progressed immensely over the years. Today it’s common knowledge that too much alcohol is bad for a person’s health, both physically and mentally. However, it wasn’t always that way. When America began, alcohol was seen as a digestive aid – Americans consumed an average of 5.8 gallons of alcohol annually in 1790.
Today that number is down to 2.5 gallons a year, according to the World Health Organization. Although less is consumed compared to the 1700s, the toll of drinking alcohol isn’t something to overlook. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, an estimated 95,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making it the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
So, why is alcohol so prevalent in America? For one, it’s much more socially acceptable than other drugs. Go to virtually any restaurant, and their alcohol offerings are presented front and center. It’s used in almost any social situation, both professionally and personally. Perhaps most overlooked, it’s legal, making people view it as acceptable until of course, it isn’t. This is when addiction comes into play.
Drinking Casually versus Alcoholism
In America, it’s a safe bet to say every type of person, regardless of age or gender, has consumed or been in contact with alcohol at some point. However, there are groups of people who on average consume more than others. Examples of this may include high school or college-aged individuals. Remember, there’s a difference between drinking alcohol sometimes and having a diagnosed Alcohol Use Disorder.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) states that alcoholism, also referred to as Alcohol Use Disorder, is a disease that affects the body and brain. It’s characterized by a person’s inability to control their drinking, which often leads to problems at work, in relationships, and health.
When comparing casually drinking and Alcoholism, there are signs to look out for. Signs of a problem drinker can include missing work after a night of drinking, getting into arguments when under the influence, or even reckless behavior when consuming alcohol. In comparison, signs of an alcoholic can be the inability to stop drinking after their first drink, the thought of when they can drink again consuming their minds, and physical symptoms when they stop drinking.
Statistics of Alcoholism in America
About 15 million Americans struggle with an Alcohol Use Disorder. In addition, the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics reports that Alcohol abuse, Alcoholism, and Alcohol Use Disorder kill over 3 million people each year. The World Health Organization (WHO) has determined excessive alcohol use is responsible for 7.1% of diseases among males and 2.2% among females.
Research has found that the age range most affected by alcohol use disorders is middle-aged adults between the ages of 35 and 64. However, around 400,000 adolescents, ages 12 to 17, also experienced AUD in 2019.
NIAAA also reports that less than 10% of people with AUD receive any type of treatment. This could be due to many reasons, one being shame held from the belief that they are bad people who should just stop drinking.
Alcoholics Are Sick People, Not Bad People
Although education has come a long way in America, it’s still common for people to misunderstand Alcoholism and the individuals who suffer from it. They may hear about all of the negative impacts a person has experienced or done due to drinking and think, “Why don’t they just stop drinking?” This thought just shows a misunderstanding of what Alcoholism is.
Alcoholism is a disease that impacts the brain and body and is characterized by a person’s inability to control their drinking. Even with a strong desire to stop drinking, many times they are not able to without help from professionals. With more education, the hope is for Americans to support Alcoholics on their journey to recovery and not push society’s agenda of over-consuming alcohol.
Symptoms of Alcoholism
It’s not uncommon to see someone publicly drunk in America. Go to any college town or downtown area, and you’ll likely see a public display of drunkenness – which is technically a misdemeanor. However, there are specific symptoms and criteria to be diagnosed with alcoholism.
Here are the 11 criteria set by the DSM-5 for alcoholism:
- Feeling powerless to control one’s level of alcohol use
- Declining to engage in social activities or hobbies that used to be of interest
- Having a desire to stop or decrease drinking but being unable to do so
- Using alcohol in high-risk situations, such as while swimming or driving
- Devoting significant time and resources to drinking
- Developing a tolerance for alcohol (i.e., needing more alcohol over time to match the feelings from earlier use)
- Experiencing cravings for alcohol when not drinking
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking (e.g., cravings, sweating, shaking, and nausea)
- Facing problems at work, home, or school because of alcohol use
- In reaction to the discomfort associated with withdrawal, having to drink to feel better
- Continuing to use alcohol even when it is leading to social, physical, relationship, and personal problems
If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it may be time to get professional help.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, hope is not lost and help is available. If you have questions or are ready to start your recovery journey, we’re here to help. Contact our skilled addiction and mental health professionals at Emerge Healing Center to learn more about our treatment and program options.
More Alcoholism Treatment Resources
If you’d like to learn more about alcoholism treatment programs, then read some of our informative articles on the topic below. We dive into every aspect of our alcoholism treatment program so that we can answer any questions you may have.