Over half of all Americans, both adults and adolescents, report being current consumers of alcohol, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In 2014, there were 139.7 million current alcohol consumers: 23 percent were reported to be binge drinkers, meaning they consumed more than four alcoholic beverages in one two-hour period, and 6.2 percent were classified as heavy drinkers, meaning they drank at least two alcoholic beverages every day of the week. In the past year, about 17 million current alcohol consumers were considered to have an alcohol use disorder, meaning they struggled with addiction to alcohol. This represents about 6.4 percent of the population.
Alcohol Abuse Is a Serious Problem in the US
The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) reported that the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that 26.9 percent of adults, ages 18 and older, reported binge drinking at least once per month, and 7 percent reported heavy alcohol consumption in the past month.
Since 2001, abuse of alcohol in the United States has skyrocketed. A new report suggests that Americans underreport their alcohol consumption, so as many as 30 million people could participate in binge drinking at least once per week. Similar numbers of people report alcohol abuse or dependence. In general, more men than women abuse alcohol, but that gap is closing, as the number of female problem drinkers has increased more than any other group since 2001. Adolescent alcohol abuse has declined, but adult alcohol abuse is on the rise.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 88,000 people die every year from alcohol abuse or complications of problem drinking. People who struggled with alcohol dependence and abuse lost an average of 30 years of life. Excessive drinking was responsible for one in 10 deaths among adults of working age, 20-64 years old.
Injuries and health problems are also closely correlated to problem drinking. NIAAA reported that 1,825 college students, ages 18-24, die from injuries sustained due to being drunk, and one in four college students report academic consequences from drinking too much, including missed classes and low grades. Of the 78,529 cases of liver disease reported in 2015, 47 percent were due to alcohol abuse, and alcohol-related liver disease was the cause of one in three liver transplants in 2009.
Problem drinking of all kinds is responsible for professional and financial struggles, including failure to meet career goals, sickness preventing consistent work, on-the-job accidents, and more. With so many people in the US struggling with some form of alcohol abuse, most professions are affected by addiction in some way. However, specific professions are more likely to experience problem drinking patterns. This is often due to long or inconsistent hours, high-stress environments, and underlying physical or psychological pain.
Professionals with the Highest Rates of Alcohol Abuse
Data gathered by SAMHSA outlines the professions that experience the highest rates of alcohol abuse.
- Lawyers: Some reports suggest as many as one in five attorneys struggles with problem drinking, including binge and heavy drinking. This is twice the national rate.
- Nurses and other healthcare professionals: About 4 percent of healthcare and social assistance professionals, including doctors, nurses, social workers, counselors, and case managers, reported heavy alcohol consumption in the prior month. A 2014 study found that 15.3 percent of physicians, specifically, struggled with alcohol abuse or dependence. A 2012 survey found that, in a self-reported survey of alcohol consumption patterns, over 15 percent of surgeons who responded had scores consistent with alcohol abuse or dependence.
- Mining: These workers showed the highest rates of heavy alcohol use, with 17.5 percent of those in the mining industry reporting past-month heavy drinking.
- Construction: In the month prior to the survey, 16.5 percent of those working in the construction field drank heavily.
- Hospitality and food services: Among those working in hotels, restaurants, bars, and related locales, 11.8 percent drank heavily in the prior month.
- Arts and entertainment: Among entertainers, artists, and those working in recreational industries, 11.5 percent reported drinking heavily in the prior month.
- Management: About 9 percent of white-collar professionals in management positions reported heavy consumption of alcohol in the past month.
- Real estate: About 5 percent of individuals working in real estate, leasing, and rental professions reported struggling with heavy alcohol consumption in the month before the survey.
- Finance and insurance: Among people who work in the financial and insurance sectors, 7.4 percent reported drinking heavily in the prior month.
- Educational services: Among teachers, school administrators, professors, tutors, substitute teachers, and others in the education field, 4.7 percent reported heavily abusing alcohol in the month before the survey.
Understanding Problem Drinking
Moderate drinking is not well understood in the US. Many people may self-report that they drink moderately when they actually consume alcohol heavily or participate in binge drinking too often. Standard serving sizes of alcohol are:
- 12 ounces of beer, or one bottle
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces of liquor or spirits, which is about one shot
The liver can metabolize about one serving of alcohol per hour, so if a person consumes more than that, they will raise their blood alcohol content (BAC) to intoxication. Two drinks per hour raises a person’s BAC to 0.08, where it becomes illegal to drive.
Women process alcohol differently from men, so heavy and binge drinking have different standards. Binge drinking for men is five or more alcoholic beverages in a two-hour period; for women, it is four or more alcoholic beverages. Heavy drinking for men is two alcoholic beverages per day, or 14 per week; for women, it is one per day, or seven per week.
Alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism, is the compulsive consumption of large amounts of alcohol consistently. The person may feel like they need to drink to feel normal. They will begin to drink more to achieve the original level of intoxication. They will choose drinking over eating, social engagements that don’t involve alcohol, and safety while driving or operating heavy machinery. They will often choose drinking over relationships.
Drinking too much can lead to addiction, which not only puts a professional’s job at risk, but also puts their friends, family, and health at risk. It is important to seek evidence-based treatment as soon as possible to mitigate the damage done by alcoholism.