Alcohol has an interesting place in our culture. It is widely used, by young and old alike. It is considered a safe and legitimate means of having fun on a night out. No one is calling for it to be made illegal. When compared to drugs, it is considered to somehow occupy an entirely different category.
And yet, just about everyone knows at least one person suffering from alcoholism. Those who don’t know someone with an addiction generally know a number of people at risk of addiction if they do not cut down on their drinking. It has serious effects on physical and mental health, and is often incredibly damaging in a societal sense.
This is not to say it should be illegal or avoided. However, most alcohol drinkers don’t know just how dangerous it can be. This is especially true for young people who see it as something fun, exciting, and relatively safe (especially when compared to illegal substances).
To get a clear idea of how prevalent alcoholism is, consider the following statistics.
General Alcohol Use
- Over 85% of American adults aged 18 and over reported drinking in their lifetimes.
- 54.9% reported drinking in the past month.
- 25.8% reported binge drinking in the past month.
- In 2019, 14.1 million Americans aged 18 and over suffered from alcohol use disorders (AUD).
- 414 thousand adolescents aged 12 to 17 suffered from AUD.
- Approximately 95 thousand people die each year from alcohol-related deaths in the US.
- Alcohol kills more people each year than every other drug combined
Alcohol Use in College
College students are at particular risk of alcohol use disorders and other complications related to alcohol use.
- 33% of college students reported binge drinking within the last month.
- 8.4% reported heavy alcohol use (binge drinking on 5 or more days in a month).
- 696 thousand students reported assault by other students who had been drinking.
- 97 thousand students reported alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
Physical Health Consequences
Alcoholism has a major impact on the physical health of millions of Americans.
- Over 83 thousand Americans died from liver diseases connected to alcohol use in 2018.
- Alcohol-related liver disease accounts for around a third of all liver transplants.
- 4% of pregnant women binge drink during pregnancy, leading to fetal alcohol syndrome in up to 9 of every thousand children.
- Over ten percent of American children live with at least one parent with alcohol abuse problems.
- Alcohol use cost the US over $249 billion in 2010.
What these statistics tell us
These statistics are as overwhelming as they are surprising. We are bombarded with information about drug addiction in the media, and schools have programs which teach children just how harmful drugs are – to the extent that they should never even try it once – while it is alcohol that is most likely to lead to addiction and death.
Should alcohol be banned like most states and countries ban heroin and other substances?
Well, it’s not that simple. Firstly, it is important to put the alcoholism statistics into context. Alcohol is definitely addictive, but it is also readily available, which is one of the factors that make it a likely cause of addiction.
Furthermore, alcohol is a significant part of people’s social lives and even religious ceremonies. Americans are unlikely to give it up altogether.
In addition, alcohol prohibition has been attempted before and there are many reasons it didn’t work.
In fact, even when it comes to illegal narcotics, criminalization has been shown over and over again to be a flawed tactic at fighting addiction. Rather than preventing use of the substance, it makes regulation that much more difficult, while criminalizing and further disadvantaging the most vulnerable in society. This is why Oregon voted to decriminalize hard drugs in the 2020 elections.
That said, it is clear that awareness of the problem is raised and that social programs are put in place to help those suffering from alcohol use disorder. It is an addiction to which every American is vulnerable, and which starts for many during their teen years.
It is something we need to speak about more. While many people are embarrassed to speak about their own alcohol abuse or that of a relative or friend, just about every American can relate. No one chooses to become addicted to alcohol and everyone is at risk, no matter how strong they think they are. It is not just a matter of will.
When more people are speaking about alcoholism and are aware of the statistics, getting help will have less of a stigma attached.
For people who are suffering from alcohol use disorder, inpatient detox and rehab is recommended. Quitting on one’s own is difficult and dangerous. There are also programs for adolescents struggling with alcohol abuse that cater to their specific physical and mental health needs.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Table 2.1B—Tobacco Product and Alcohol Use in Lifetime, Past Year, and Past Month among Persons Aged 12 or Older, by Age Group: Percentages, 2018 and 2019. Available at: https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHDetailedTabs2018R2/NSDUHDetTabsSect2pe2018.htm#tab2-1b<
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Alcohol and Public Health: Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI). Annual Average for United States 2011-2015 Alcohol-Attributable Deaths Due to Excessive Alcohol Use, All Ages. Available at: https://nccd.cdc.gov/DPH_ARDI/Default/Report.aspx
- Wechsler, H.; Dowdall, G.W.; Maenner, G.; et al. Changes in binge drinking and related problems among American college students between 1993 and 1997: Results of the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study. Journal of American College Health 47(2):57–68, 1998. PMID: 9782661
- Hingson, R.; Heeren, T.; Winter, M.; et al. Magnitude of alcohol-related mortality and morbidity among U.S. college students ages 18–24: Changes from 1998 to 2001. Annual Review of Public Health 26:259–279, 2005. PMID: 15760289
- Singal, A.K.; Guturu, P.; Hmoud, B.; et al. Evolving frequency and outcomes of liver transplantation based on etiology of liver disease. Transplantation 95(5):755–760, 2013. PMID: 23370710
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Data Spotlight: More than 7 Million Children Live with a Parent with Alcohol Problems, 2012. Available at: https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/Spot061ChildrenOfAlcoholics2012/Spot061ChildrenOfAlcoholics2012.pdf.
- Sacks, J.J.; Gonzales, K.R.; Bouchery, E.E.; et al. 2010 national and state costs of excessive alcohol consumption. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 49(5):e73–e79, 2015. PMID: 26477807