After a long day, there’s no better way to unwind than with a drink. Luckily, there are a lot of alcoholic beverages to choose from. Moderate alcohol consumption is relatively harmless. However, statistics show that regular alcohol use has a tendency to lead to heavy-drinking and — ultimately — alcoholism.
Alcoholism is a severe form of alcohol abuse. This disorder is affecting more Americans and becoming an epidemic that needs immediate addressing. The latest statistics are troubling.
A recent study published by the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) follows the 12-month alcohol consumption habits of participants. 12-month alcohol use, high-risk drinking and alcoholism increased by 11.2%, 29.9%, and 49.4% respectively from 2001-2002 to 2012 – 2013. In short, alcoholism is undoubtedly on the rise.
The statistics also prove that certain demographics and subgroups are more susceptible. The most substantial increases are among women, older adults, socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals and certain ethnic and racial minorities.
A higher prevalence in alcohol use
With alcohol being more easily accessible, anyone can grab a drink after work at a bar, a pub or at a liquor store. It’s even easy for young teenagers to get ahold of alcohol. 72% of teenagers who drink alcohol get it for free from family members or friends, at parties or from stealing it.
Based on the study, the most notable increases include:
- 29.1% among Asians and Pacific Island individuals
- 22.4% among adults 65 years of age and up
- 22.3% among individuals with a lower family income
- 17.2% among Hispanics
- 15.8% among women
- 11.7% among individuals with a lower education background
Alcohol use does not show any alcohol abuse or dependence. In moderation, alcohol is safe, and may even be healthy. The troubling issue is that regular alcohol consumption can lead to a tendency of abuse. Based on the study, more participants struggle with high-risk drinking and alcohol abuse.
Possible causes for the rise of alcohol use
There’s no set answer on why alcohol consumption is becoming more frequent. Many scientists have proposed several working theories. The best theories revolve around availability, socioeconomic factors and social norms.
It’s easy to get ahold of liquor. Walk into any bar or lounge, and you can order a martini or a cocktail within minutes. There’s an array of different types of cocktails designed to tailor to various tastes. If you love sweet drinks, order a fruity cocktail. If spicy and sour suits your fancy, a Caesar will quench your thirst. If you’re looking for a buzz, a shot of vodka, whiskey, tequila or rum will do the trick.
The cost of liquor has gone down thanks to mass production, and a good bottle of wine is no longer a luxury. This means that people have better means to drink. You can find a cheap bottle at a liquor store or even a grocery store.
As for social norms, it’s hard not to knock back a drink or two when out celebrating with friends. Alcoholic beverages are almost always present at celebratory events. Many employees insist on grabbing a beer at business meetings or gatherings to bond.
Alcohol consumption is becoming a part of society and daily life. Many people don’t hesitate to order a drink or crack open a bottle of wine regularly.
The transition from alcohol use to high-risk drinking
No one bats an eye anymore at drinkers. Movies, shows and social norms have made drinking a normal part of society. So, it’s no wonder why alcohol use can transition to high-risk drinking fairly quickly.
High-risk drinking is also referred to as binge drinking. For males, high-risk drinking is having more than 1 to 2 drinks every hour or a total of 4 to 5 drinks in one night. For females, having more than 1 drink per hour or a total of 3 to 4 drinks in one night constitutes as high-risk drinking. High risk drinkers are individuals who exceed these limits at least once a week in the prior 12 months.
Binge drinking can lead to an array of temporary side effects. Regular binge drinkers may develop certain permanent ones.
A huge rise in high-risk drinking
In the study, the prevalence of high-risk drinking increased 29.9% in the total population. Some demographics and groups are more affected than others.
From most affected to least affected, the subgroups in the study that saw the largest increase included:
- 65.2% in individuals 65 years of age and up
- 62.4% in black individuals
- 57.9% in women
- 42.3% in individuals with a high school education
- 40.6% in Hispanics
- 35.1% in individuals earning an income of $19,999 or less
- 35.1% in individuals residing in urban areas
- 34.2% in individuals currently married or cohabitating
- 34.7% in individuals with less than a high school education
- 34.2% in individuals
- 31.9% in previously married individuals
Individuals in any of these social groups can easily access alcohol. They also have the socioeconomic means, and are from a culture that promotes drinking.
Physical signs of excess alcohol intake
So, how exactly do you know whether you’ve had too much to drink?
Alcohol tolerance varies in each individual. Different amounts will have different physical effects on each person. While this is true, brain and nervous system impairment usually starts to kick in after having 2 to 3 drinks.
Alcohol consumption causes a slurring of speech, drowsiness and emotional changes. These signs are normal and expected after several drinks. Some symptoms are dangerous. They show an excess amount of blood alcohol level.
Common signs of excess alcohol intake include:
- Vomiting and nausea
- Inability to control bladder and bowel movements
- Inability to remember any memory of events that unfold, also known as blackouts
- Temporary loss of consciousness
- Coma and death from alcohol poisoning
The symptoms of high-risk drinking results in poor decision making abilities. Only time can absolve binge drinking. The liver takes one hour to metabolize each ounce of alcohol, but the liquor can remain in your bloodstream for up to 12 hours.
From high-risk drinking to alcoholism
Alcoholism has also become more prevalent following the rise of high-risk drinking. Surprisingly, high-risk drinking and alcoholism is not the same thing. In fact, many high-risk drinkers are not considered to suffer from alcoholism. The CDC found that only 8.1% of high-risk drinkers met the guidelines for alcoholism. High-risk drinking is the tendency to consume an excess amount of alcohol. Alcoholism, on the other hand, includes alcohol dependency. It’s also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD).
AUD is a serious mental disorder that affected an estimated 16 million Americans in 2015. It’s an epidemic that affects both adults and adolescents.
According to the study, the prevalence of AUD increased from 8.5% to 12.7%, which is a change of 49.4% in the total population. Increases in certain subgroups are worth mentioning. There was an increase of:
- 106.7% among adults age 65 years and up
- 92.8% among black individuals
- 83.7% among women
- 65.9% among individuals earning an income of $20,000 or less
- 59.5% among individuals residing in urban areas
Once again, it’s obvious that certain subgroups are more susceptible to AUD than others time and time again. There are various stages that users advance through in AUD. In each stage, dependence increases. The ability to control alcohol consumption also decreases.
Alcoholism warning signs
The rate at which alcoholism is increasing is troubling. As more people drink recreationally to blow off steam, distinguishing who is afflicted by alcoholism can be difficult. It’s much easier to notice warning signs in loved ones than in yourself. Common rudimentary signs of alcoholism include, but are not restricted to:
- Experiencing cravings related to drinking
- Continued drinking even when the drinking was causing depression and anxiety
- Struggling to withdrawal symptoms, like restlessness, nausea or sweating
- Avoiding hobbies and previously pleasurable activities in favor of drinking
- Needing to drink more and more to feel the effects of the alcohol
As dependence worsens, the symptoms worsen. At the final stage, also known as the conclusion stage, physical symptoms become excruciating. It becomes difficult to hold food down. Users also often experience inconsolable tremors throughout the day.
Many people don’t realize that they have become alcoholics until it’s too late. The transition from alcohol use to high-risk drinking to alcoholism is quite gradual. There are also a fair amount of functional alcoholics in society. It can be difficult to detect the disorder in these individuals. They remain competent and capable while alcohol secretly takes over their lives.
For a more detailed and thorough analysis, take this alcoholism quiz. The results will offer you a deeper insight into the condition.
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Effects of long term alcohol abuse
The data collected from the study should not be overlooked. This is because alcohol abuse can have some devastating long term effects.
Long-term alcohol abuse can cause liver disease, chronic pancreatitis and cancer. It can also manifest in psychiatric disorders, like personality disorder and major depression. Alcoholics often have permanent damage to their cardiovascular system. This results in an increased risk of having a stroke, a heart attack or a hematologic disease. Alcohol abuse can also negatively impact the nervous system, the digestive system and the immune system. In fact, studies have found that the increased risk of developing diabetes in high-risk teenage drinkers come with an odds ratio of 12.57. The long term effects of alcohol abuse will lead to a shorter mortality.
Alcohol abuse is not only devastating for the alcoholic, but also to their family. Most importantly, children of alcoholics will suffer from their parents’ decision to drink. Growing up with an alcoholic parent can lead to the development of self-esteem issues, emotional instability and intimacy issues.
Treatments for alcohol dependency
Watching someone you love become dependent and addicted to alcohol is heartbreaking. They lose themselves and become a shell of who they once were. If you’re struggling with alcohol abuse or dependence, you can attest to the damage. Alcohol can end up controlling and even ruining your life.
Fortunately, there are plenty of different treatment options available. They each offer their distinctive features, advantages and disadvantages. Treatment options that come with the highest recommendations and success rates include:
- The twelve-step program
- Inpatient treatment programs
- Intensive outpatient treatment programs
- Medications, like acamprosate or disulfuram
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
The twelve-step program focuses on changing the way you think. It also unravels the hidden reasons that led to the abuse, and is commonly used by Alcoholics Anonymous. Both inpatient and outpatient programs involve individual, group and family therapy sessions. Medications help curve cravings and reduce withdrawal symptoms. They can also reduce the high achieved from drinking. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps identify triggers that led to the drinking. Through repetitive practice, set different reactions for those triggers. Many recovery centers recommend combining several treatment options at once for alcohol addiction.
None of these treatments will cure you overnight. The road to recovery takes time. With these treatments and professional assistance, the road to recovery becomes less daunting. You’ll have an easier time weaning off of the alcohol and avoiding relapses. You’ll also get all the support you need during these difficult times. Just remember this: you are not alone!
Break the Cycle of Alcohol Dependence
The statistics show that older adults, women, certain ethnic and racial minorities and those who are of a lower socioeconomic status tend to abuse alcohol more often. Alcohol dependence and abuse is quickly becoming an epidemic in the US. It’s time to start addressing alcohol use disorders as a public health crisis. With its prevalence, alcoholism should no longer be a stigma.
Don’t let alcohol abuse ruin you or a loved one’s life. It’s time to break free of the chains and shackles. Regain control by taking action. There are plenty of recovery centers that can offer you or your loved one’s the help needed.