According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 26.9% of adults reported that they had engaged in binge drinking during the previous month, and another 7% drank heavily. 15.1 million adults suffered from an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in 2015 while 623,000 youths between the ages of 12 and 17 suffered from this same disorder. Unfortunately, only 6.7% of adults and 5.2% of youths diagnosed with an AUD actually received treatment1. The United States ranks 48th of 191 countries in alcohol consumption per capita. (World Health Organization)
Between the years of 2008 and 2010, the consumption of pure alcohol averaged 9.2 liters per capita in the United States1. By ‘pure alcohol’ is meant the alcohol itself aside from other additives such as flavors or mixers. In other words, the amount of pure alcohol in an ounce of vodka and the amount of pure alcohol in an ounce of beer are very different. In addition, this amount is ‘per capita’, meaning that the total amount consumed is divided among the total population. Since a significant portion of the population in the United States drinks never or very infrequently, many of those who do drink are consuming far more than the average of 9.2 liters.
The Impact of Alcohol Abuse
Clearly, the problem is huge. So is the impact. Approximately 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually. Only tobacco and poor diet/exercise cause more preventable deaths. Almost 10,000 people died in 2014 as a result of alcohol-related driving1. Alcohol misuse cost the United States $249 billion in 2010 alone and three-quarters of that amount is related to binge drinking1.
More than 30,000 cases of death as a result of liver disease caused by drinking occurred in 20151. Almost one-third of liver transplants are due to alcohol use and alcohol use also increases cases of cancer of the mouth, esophagus, pharynx, larynx and breast 1.
Beyond the cost in lives lost, there is also the impact of alcohol abuse on family, friends, education and careers. Over 10% of children live with a parent who suffers from an AUD1. Some research indicates that adolescent alcohol use may interfere with normal adolescent brain development and may also be a partial cause of injuries and sexual assaults1. Surveys report that about 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, such as missing class; falling behind or doing poorly and generally lower grades1. Use of alcohol during pregnancy results in approximately 5 cases of fetal alcohol syndrome per 1,000 births1.
Some Surprising Facts
Men are more likely than women to abuse alcohol and therefore to suffer from the effects of alcohol abuse. Maybe this isn’t so surprising since many men consider it important that they are able to ‘hold their alcohol’ or ‘drink somebody under the counter’. This translates into a felt need to prove how much you can drink. What would a fraternity party be without a keg and people doing ‘keg stands’? The result is that men are twice as likely as women to be involved in deadly car crashes as well as more cases of physical assault and even suicide while under the influence of alcohol2.
Two-thirds of high school students who drink consume so much that they become drunk. In some cases, this is on purpose: they want to get drunk2. Another reason is that, once high school students manage to buy alcohol, they can’t exactly take it home and put it in the refrigerator. They feel they have to consume everything they bought or it will just go to waste. Naturally, this often results in fighting, driving under the influence and risky sexual behavior2.
17% of men, or almost one-fifth, and 8% of women, or almost one tenth, will suffer from alcohol dependence during their lifetime. Dependence refers to an inability to manage their life without alcohol. This could mean that they cannot relax or have fun without alcohol. For others, alcohol becomes so much a part of their daily lives that they become addicted2.
Aside from the physical impact described above, in terms of liver disease and other problems, alcohol abuse can also bring on such psychological or emotional problems as depression, anxiety or even dementia. On average, the lifespan of those who’ve died due to the abuse of or addiction to alcohol was shortened by 30 years2.
A recent campaign seeks to remind us that “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” It’s worth asking how that is working out? Here are some quick facts about driving under the influence: A drunk driver will drive under the influence an average of 80 times before they are arrested for DUI the first time. Somebody is killed in a crash involving somebody driving under the influence every 51 minutes. Somebody is injured in such an accident every two minutes. In the year 2011 alone, almost 10,000 people were victims of drivers operating their vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. About one-third of teens who die in car accidents are victims of a drunk driver. Of children who die at age 14 or younger, 17% are victims of a driver under the influence of alcohol. Lastly, children and teens who begin drinking before adulthood are 7 times more likely to be involved in an alcohol-related crash in their lifetimes.
Alcohol abuse and addiction is clearly a significant problem in the United States. The cost to the drinkers themselves and to others is enormous. Important efforts are being made to discourage drunken driving and underage drinking, with some success. While it is difficult to determine what else can be done, it is clear that those who care must intervene in the lives of family and friends who abuse alcohol. Don’t just wish things were different. Make a difference.