Alcoholism is a devastating, potentially fatal disease. The primary symptom of having it is telling everyone – including yourself – that you are not an alcoholic.”
~ Herbert L. Gravitz & Julie D. Bowden
There is at least one alcoholism fact that you might want to know: alcoholism is a dangerous, though often misunderstood, mental disease. With this in mind, here we present twenty specific facts about alcoholism and alcohol abuse that you may not know, though you most likely should know. Alcoholism is a reality for millions of Americans around the country, either because they struggling with alcohol issues themselves or have a loved one who abuses alcohol consistently. Despite this prevalence, alcoholism as an addiction and a mental disease is often misunderstood or misconstrued.
To counter this misunderstanding, these are the six most important facts about alcoholism that you might want to know about:
- Alcoholism is just as dangerous as any other form of addiction
- Alcoholism is a prevalent and widespread problem in the United States
- Alcoholism, as a form of addiction, is not an individual’s choice
- Alcoholism often leads to many social and health problems
- Alcoholism has a genetic and family component
- You can recover from alcoholism, and you need help to do so
Alcoholism Fact #1: Alcoholism is a Form of Addiction
First and foremost, it is crucial to understand that alcoholism is a form of substance addiction. While it may seem obvious, the unfortunate reality is that many people do not realize that alcoholism can be just as serious – and equally dangerous – as drug addiction. Binge drinking and even some forms of alcohol abuse may not necessarily constitute addiction, but certain drinking habits and dependency in your body can turn into alcohol addiction. In fact, many of the signs of alcoholism are the same as that of addiction as a whole.
Some of the most common symptoms of alcoholism include:
- Using alcohol as a means to relax, wake up, or generally feel better
- Alcohol use disrupting your personal and professional life
- Feelings of guilt or shame about your drinking habits
- Consistently drinking more alcohol than you intend to
- Family or friends expressing concern about your drinking habits
- Lowered performance at work or school, or shirking responsibilities at home because of your drinking
- Continuing to drink alcohol despite its effect on your relationships
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you go too long without a drink (such as anxiety, insomnia, headaches, or a loss of appetite)
- Trying to quit drinking altogether without success
The American Society of Addiction Medicine has recently updated the definition of addiction to include new aspects, such as the inability to abstain from substances, the loss of behavioral control, experiencing cravings, and being unable or unwilling to recognize the problems caused by substance abuse. This is essentially the definition of an alcoholic. Under this definition, and the signs outlined above, addiction applies equally to drugs and alcohol. All of these symptoms signify that your drinking habits have gone beyond casual drinking and entered the realm of alcohol addiction. This is the foundational fact to know about alcoholism, but it is just the beginning of what is important to know about alcohol abuse.
Alcoholism Fact #2: Addiction to Alcohol is a Widespread Problem
Some people who are addicted to alcohol may have the feeling that they are isolated in their experience. Given the statistics of both alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorder in the United States, this could not be further from the truth. In 2015, a national survey from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that over 15 million adults suffered from alcohol use disorder (AUD). AUD is simply the professional term for problematic drinking, and includes a level of disorder that is synonymous with alcoholism.
“Problem drinking that becomes severe is given the medical diagnosis of ‘alcohol use disorder’ or AUD. Approximately 7.2 percent of adults in the United States had an AUD in 2012. The more symptoms you have, the more urgent the need for change. A health professional can conduct a formal assessment of your symptoms to see if an alcohol use disorder is present. However severe the problem may seem, most people with an alcohol use disorder can benefit from treatment. Unfortunately, only a fraction of people who could benefit from treatment receive help. In 2012, for example, 1.4 million adults received treatment for an AUD at a specialized facility.”
~ National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Less than ten percent of those suffering from an AUD receive the help that they need. Despite this, close to 100,000 deaths in the United States are due to excessive alcohol use, making alcoholism the third most common life-style-related cause of death in the country. The alcoholism statistics outlined here make it clear that millions of people in the United States suffer from alcoholism. It is time to challenge the stigma and the isolation associated with alcoholism and other forms of addiction. Once families and individuals alike begin to realize how widespread of a problem alcoholism is, people can seek out the help that they need to recover from the effects of alcoholism and addiction.
Alcoholism Fact #3: Alcoholism is Not an Individual Choice
For both alcoholics and their loved ones, maybe the most important fact to know about alcoholism is that it is not an individual or personal choice. Addiction is associated with a range of behavioral and psychological changes that make overcoming the addiction difficult – this applies to both drug addiction and to alcoholism equally. This is because alcoholism is a mental disorder. In simple terms, this means that alcoholism affects the brain in a way that decreases its ability to make healthy choices when it comes to alcohol use. Alcohol abuse changes the brain’s wiring to the point where it decreases individual capacity for choice over alcohol use – eventually leading to chronic alcoholism.
“Choices do not happen without a brain – it is the mechanism of choice. The quality of a person’s choices depends on the health of that mechanism. However much we may wish that a person’s choices were free in all instances, it is simply a fact that an addicted person’s failures in the realm of choice are the product of a brain that has become greatly compromised. Once addiction takes hold, there is greatly diminished capacity, on one’s own, to stop using. This is why psychiatry recognizes addiction as a disease of the brain, and why professional intervention is needed to treat it in most instances.”
~ Dr. Nora Volkow, National Institute on Drug Abuse
We consider this a fact you might want to know, since it can give a sense of freedom to those struggling with alcoholism and those looking to support them. Recognizing that you cannot overcome alcoholism on your own, that it is not a personal choice, allows you to ask for the help that you need to recover. It can also go a long way toward release you from the shame and stigmatization associated with alcoholism.
Alcoholism Fact #4: Alcohol Abuse Can Lead to Health & Social Problems
Some people may have difficulty recognizing why it is so important to overcome problematic alcohol use or alcoholism. The importance of recovery essentially boils down to just one thing: alcohol abuse often leads to myriad health and social problems, affecting both personal and professional lives.
“Over time, excessive alcohol use, both in the form of heavy drinking or binge drinking, can lead to numerous health problems, chronic diseases, neurological impairments and social problems.”
~ National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
It is usually very difficult (if not impossible) to completely hide your alcoholism from those around you. Over time, alcoholism usually leads to many different social problems, including unemployment due to lost productivity and family problems at home. In fact, one of the most common symptoms of alcoholism is an increase in problems at home due to drinking habits. Alcoholism often has a profoundly detrimental effect on family life. If you have a family member struggling with alcoholism, you know that addiction places a great amount of stress on marriage, partnerships and home life. The person struggling with alcoholism is often in denial about their mental disorder, which places loved ones in a difficult and stressful situation.
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse can also either lead to or complicate other psychiatric issues, such as anxiety and depression. However, the impact of alcoholism is not limited to social and relational issues. It can also have a detrimental impact on your physical health over time.
Various forms of alcohol abuse, including alcoholism, can lead to many of the following health issues:
- Cardiovascular problems (including hypertension)
- Increased risk of cancer
- Liver diseases (such as cirrhosis, or scarring of the tissue)
- Gastrointestinal issues
Clearly, alcoholism has a detrimental impact on nearly every area of life, from your personal health to your professional reputation. There is no benefit in continuing problematic drinking behaviors. Recognizing the issues associated with continued alcohol abuse is perhaps the most important things to know about alcoholism, since it makes it clear that overcoming this mental disorder should be a priority.
Alcoholism Fact #5: Alcoholism Has a Genetic Component
One of the hardest hitting facts about alcoholism is that genetics make up at least fifty percent of the risk of developing alcohol dependence. While there may not be a specified ‘addiction gene’, research has shown time and again that both drug addiction and alcoholism run in families. More specifically, research has shown that a child of an alcoholic is four times more likely to develop problems with alcohol than the general public.
This is due both to the genetic component of addiction and the psychological impact of witnessing alcoholism first hand. Because both addiction and alcoholism can create family problems, the social impact of alcoholism in the home may be just as severe as the genetic component passed on to children and even extended family members. However, all of this does not mean that having a family history of alcoholism automatically means that you will struggle with alcohol abuse yourself.
“While genetics make up 50% of the risk for alcohol and drug dependence, not all people who use alcohol and drugs will become addicted, dependent or even use them regularly. Ultimately, addiction is influenced by many factors, including a person’s environment, parents, expectancies of what drinking or using drugs will do, and one’s individual response to drugs and alcohol. And while a history of alcohol or drug dependence is known to contribute significantly to the risk of a child developing the same condition, genes are not the sole determinant of alcoholism or drug dependence.”
~ National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
In other words, it is possible to overcome a family history of alcoholism and choose a healthier, happier life. It is important to know whether or not your family has a history of alcohol abuse or addiction, since this knowledge can help you equip yourself to overcome the genetic and generational component of alcoholism.
Alcoholism Fact #6: You Can Recover from Alcoholism – You Just Need Help
Recovery from alcoholism is not only possible, but also relatively common in the United States. According to a recent survey from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, at least a third of those struggling with alcoholism fully recover from the effects of the addiction. This contrasts the alcoholism statistic cited above that less than ten percent of alcoholics enter into formal alcoholism treatment, but it does show how important treatment is for recovery from the addiction. There are many different variations in how to approach alcoholism recovery, and sometimes it can take time to find out which approach works best for your individualized situation. Some of the best methods for alcoholism treatment include:
- Support Groups: Informal group meetings can be a great place to get started on the road to recovery. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous offer a supportive and safe environment to process the effects of alcoholism on your life, as well as consistent accountability for keeping sober. There are thousands of AA meetings all around the United States. Support groups like these often serve as a means of continuing recovery after completing treatment.
- Alcoholism Treatment: Many people who have struggled with alcoholism for a long period of time require a more formal approach to alcoholism recovery. Often, this takes the form of an intensive outpatient treatment program for alcoholism. This kind of program allows those who have been abusing alcohol to get the professional help that they need to begin recovery without disrupting their daily lives. Treatment commonly includes one-on-one counseling sessions, group support, and workshops for developing coping strategies to stay sober in the long haul.
- Detoxification: For those who have faced the reality of alcoholism for a long period of time, alcohol detoxification is a crucial step of recovery. Extreme forms of alcoholism can in turn lead to extreme withdrawal symptoms, some of which can be dangerous if not managed correctly. Staying sober while undergoing these withdrawal symptoms is considered by some to be the most difficult part of recovery. Because of this, it is important to get help for the initial stages of recovery. Safely withdrawing through monitored detoxification can set you up for long-term success in overcoming alcoholism altogether.
Getting treatment for alcoholism is not always easy, since it can be difficult to make the decision to get help in the first place. This is why getting the right kind of help is critical for alcoholism recovery. The ‘right kind of help’ can mean either professional help in the form of a treatment center or more informal help in the form of support from friends and family. Either way, it is crucial to understand that you do not have to go through recovery on your own. The key in recovery is to first determine to make a change, then to seek out the help that you need to get started, and finally to stay accountable in recovery.
Alcoholism Fact #7: Alcoholism Can Strike Anyone, Anywhere
We all have our preconceived notions about what alcoholism really looks like. If you’re like most people, you envision a homeless person on the street. He’s disheveled, and it looks like he’s drinking out of a bag. He can’t hold down a job, and he seems to have no purpose.
Is that what you think of when you think of an alcoholism? If it is, you’re entirely wrong. More often than not, people who drink too much are classified as high-functioning alcoholics. On the outside, they appear to have their lives together. They may make a lot of money, drive fancy cars, and have big, expensive houses. They may also have excellent careers and loving families at home. The problem is that alcohol is really what rules their lives.
Anyone can be an alcoholic, and it rarely falls into the stereotype most people think of. It doesn’t differentiate or “play favorites.” That means no one is immune to this disease.
Alcoholism Fact #8: You Can Die From Withdrawal from Drinking
For alcoholics, nothing tastes as good as drinking. When they first start drinking, they did so by choice. They may have walked into a bar, or purchased alcohol at a store to drink at home. It was readily available to them, and fairly easy to access if they were old enough.
The problem is that alcoholics frequently believe that it should be just as easy to stop. They think they’ll just make up their mind to quit one day and that will be it. It’s not that simple, and it’s not just the cravings that make it so hard. It’s the threat of fatal withdrawal symptoms.
Delirium tremens is a condition that can occur when someone stops drinking. When it is left untreated, the results can be deadly. The DTs can lead to seizures, confusion, hallucinations and other complications. This is why it’s so important to recover in a supportive, professional setting.
Alcoholism Fact #9: More Men are Alcoholics Than Women
According to the CDC, men are much more likely to drink excessively than women. They’re also more likely to take risks when they’ve been drinking. This fact might upset some women, but the statistics always tell the truth.
It’s difficult to say why this is the case. It could be because men assume that they can handle drinking better than women. Therefore, they consume more alcohol overall. Regardless of the reason, this does not mean that women should assume that they aren’t at risk. Women can become alcoholics just as easily as men.
Alcoholism Fact #10: Regular Binge Drinking Doesn’t Necessary Make You an Alcoholic
There are many people who participate in binge drinking frequently. This is a behavior that’s actually pretty popular on college campuses all across the U.S. College students will binge drink on the weekends, and it happens all the time.
This type of drinking is very dangerous, but that doesn’t mean it leads to alcoholism. In most cases, it doesn’t. However, for some people, it certainly can. Most of the time, people are able to binge drink regularly, and not drink at all the rest of the time.
It should be stated, however, that this does not mean that bingeing is safe. It is not safe at all. This type of alcohol consumption regularly leads to fatal accidents. It should always be avoided.
Alcoholism Fact #11: Alcohol Abuse Will Develop Into an Addiction Eventually
“I can hold my liquor.”
“I’m in control of how much I drink.”
“I can stop drinking anytime I want to.”
Have you heard people state these phrases? Maybe you’ve even said them yourself, wholeheartedly believing that they’re true. The fact is that abusing alcohol can quickly get out of hand. People like to think that they can manage their drinking. More often than not, they’re unable to.
Right now, you may only be abusing alcohol, and you might not be dependent on it yet. However, that can change in an instant. You could easily find that you’re an alcoholic after your next drinking session.
Please, don’t kid yourself into thinking that you can control alcohol. This is a common trap, and more often than not, you’ll find that alcohol really controls you.
Alcoholism Fact #12: Blackouts are Common and They’re Not the Same as Fainting
It’s important to know the difference between blacking out and fainting. Some people think that they are the same thing, but they’re not at all.
When you faint, you lose consciousness. This is caused by the temporary stoppage of blood flow to the brain. If you’re an excessive drinker, you’re not likely to faint while you’re drinking in most cases. You could if you have a health condition, such as a heart problem, that makes you prone to it.
Blacking out means that you have lost all memory of what happened to you. During a blackout you are still able to converse with other people. You really function just as you normally would. What usually happens is that the next day, you don’t remember anything. This can be a terrifying experience for many people.
Alcoholism Fact #13: Alcoholism is Extremely Expensive
Most people are unable to fathom the amount of money alcoholics spend drinking in a single year. The CDC states that the cost of drinking is draining the United States economy.
- In 2010, excessive alcohol use reached close to $250 billion dollars.
- This works out to be about $2.05 per drink.
- 77% of these costs were because of binge drinking.
- Washington DC was responsible for $3.5 billion of these costs.
- California was responsible for $35 billion.
You may wonder how these costs are calculated. It breaks down like this:
- 72% of the total cost is due to loss in workplace productivity.
- 11% is due to healthcare costs.
- 10% is due to criminal justice expenses and law enforcement.
- 5% is due to car crashes linked to drinking too much.
- The remainder is for the actual alcohol consumed.
These costs have undoubtedly increased during this time. When you think about, no one can really afford to drink alcohol. It’s a very expensive habit.
Alcoholism Fact #14: Drinking Will Eventually Make You Feel Worse, Not Better
You’ve undoubtedly heard people say that they drink alcohol to help “drown their sorrows.” They believe that drinking will help them feel better, or bring them out of depression. The interesting part is that it can work; at least for a little while.
Alcohol is a depressant drug. While it might make you feel better in the short-term, in the long-term it’s only going to make you feel worse. Researchers say that depressed people are more likely to drink. However, they also indicate that alcohol is likely to lead to depression. In those who are already depressed, it can make it much worse.
Alcoholism Fact #15: Celebrities are Known Alcoholics
There really is no stress like the stress of being famous. Your life isn’t your own when you’re a celebrity. You’re always operating on a schedule, expected to act just right, and you’re in the public eye. It’s not surprising that so many celebrities turn to alcohol. They simply cannot find any other way to cope.
There are so many celebrities who are alcoholics. Among them are:
- Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter)
- Bradley Cooper (American Sniper, and others)
- Billy Joel (Pop/Rock Musician)
- Stephen King (Horror Novelist)
- Betty Ford (Wife of President Gerald Ford)
The late Robin Williams and Carrie Fisher also admitted to being alcoholics. This comes as a shock to many people. These individuals are thought to lead charmed lives with no cares in the world. Their struggles are very real, and for them, alcohol seemed a fair solution.
Alcoholism Fact #16: Drinking and Driving is a Common Problem in the United States – and it’s Getting Worse
Drunk driving has been a problem for years, and it continues to be a problem today. Statistics tell us that:
- One-third of all drivers who are arrested for drunk driving are repeat offenders.
- In 2013, close to 1,150 children ages 14 and under were killed in motor vehicle accidents.
- Of these, 200 of them were involved in alcohol-related crashes.
- 121 of them were in a car where the occupants had BACs of .08 or higher.
- In 2016, 10,497 people died in accidents involving a drunk driver.
- This works out to being one every 50 minutes.
- An additional 290,000 people were injured in drunk driving accidents.
It’s impossible to ignore a problem this major. Drunk driving will most likely only get worse in the years to come.
Alcoholism Fact #17: Women Can’t Hold Their Liquor as Well as Men Can
A lot of women are all about equality. However, there’s nothing equal as far as how well men and women hold their liquor. It turns out that the main difference is in how men and women both process alcohol. Even if one man and one woman are the same height and weight, men seem to be able to process it faster.
Men have less body fat than women do, and their blood volume is also higher. Their bodies contain a higher concentration of dehydrogenase. This is an enzyme responsible for breaking down alcohol. This means that women are able to get drunk much faster than men.
Alcoholism Fact #18: Teenagers Can Become Alcoholics Too
Excessive drinking is often considered to be a rite of passage that many teens go through. Parents will frequently look the other way, assuming that it’s only a phase. What they don’t realize is that teens who drink can easily become alcoholics. In fact, underage drinking is one of the key risk factors for alcoholism in adults.
For teens who drink, their brains are not developed enough to handle the inclusion of alcohol. This means that their brains can quickly adjust to consuming it regularly so that it becomes the norm. It’s not unusual for a teenager to become an alcoholic by the time they’re an adult if they drink excessively.
Alcoholism Fact #19: Alcohol is the 3rd Leading Lifestyle Cause of Death in the U.S.
Did you know that 88,000 deaths in the United States are attributed to alcohol each year? This works out to be 2.5 million years of potential life lost an on annual basis. If these statistics surprise you, they should. However, they should also point to the fact that alcoholism is a very real disease.
Some people don’t realize that they can recover once they’ve become alcoholics. They may not even see the need to recover. Choosing to get help now can save your life, and this is something we want you to be aware of.
Alcoholism Fact #20: Drinking Too Much Can Eventually Kill You
You may already be aware of the medical problems that can result from drinking too much. You know that alcohol is toxic to the liver. You could end up with a liver disease such as cirrhosis. This can be fatal. However, alcohol can actually kill you in the short term too.
Acute alcohol intoxication is a very real condition, and it’s also a deadly one. This is typically known as alcohol poisoning or overdose. This occurs by drinking too much or by drinking too fast.
So Now That You Know the Facts, What to Do About Alcoholism?
Hopefully this post has given you a better understanding of both what it looks like to be an alcoholic and what options are available for overcoming alcoholism altogether. At this point you may be asking what the next steps are. The mere fact that you are here, reading this, is a good sign that you are ready to begin your recovery. If you still have questions about alcoholism or treatment, feel free to contact us today. The most important alcoholism fact that you might want to know is that you can overcome it, and we are here to help.