Alcoholism is one of the biggest public health crises in the United States today, and it has been for generations. We know this because of the statistics and information on alcoholism and addiction that have collected over the years, showing how alcohol and substance abuse have affected people across genders, ages, and socioeconomic statuses. Through this, we also know of the best sources for treatment, meaning that despite the scope of alcoholism, getting evidence-based help for the problem is always possible.
Six Deaths a Day
Mayo Clinic explains that alcoholism is a physical and emotional dependence on alcohol. Someone who is an alcoholic cannot control their constant impulses to drink even as the drunkenness causes relationship problems, job or school problems, financial problems, and health problems.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, six people die every day from alcohol poisoning, the effect of drinking too much alcohol too quickly. About 76 percent of the people who die are men who also tend to be non-Hispanic white Americans. Research has found that alcoholism is a factor in 30 percent of alcohol poisoning deaths.
Alcohol poisoning, sometimes known as an alcohol overdose, can present as vomiting, disorientation, difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat, loss of consciousness, and, at its most severe, seizures and cardiac arrest. But the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence points out that dangerous drinking can cause a number of other health issues and not just for the person doing the drinking. There are 100,000 people who die every year as a result of drinking and driving, other accidents, falls, fires, suicides, and homicides related to alcohol consumption.
Unfortunately, this form of alcohol consumption is tragically commonplace. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism writes that 24.6 percent of people 18 years or over admitted that they engaged in that kind of drinking in the month prior to being asked the question in 2013.
Put another way, “alcoholism is the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death” in the United States, coming after tobacco and unhealthy diets and/or lack of exercise. A person who succumbs to excessive alcohol use loses a potential of 30 years of potential life, and as many as 40 percent of all the hospital beds across the country are used to treat health conditions that develop from alcoholism.
The epidemic is such that as many as 17 percent of men in the general population and 8 percent of women will meet the criteria for alcoholism in their lifetime.
Teenagers and Alcoholism
For teenagers, there is a particularly increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. Teenage brains are still in relatively early stages of development, compelling young men and women to act more impulsively and to test the boundaries of safe and acceptable behavior. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry writes that the regions of the brain responsible for problem-solving, decision-making, and judgment are not fully formed in teenagers, which manifests itself in behaviors like promiscuous and unprotected sexual behavior, rebelling against authority, and substance abuse. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, more than 4,700 people die every year as a result of teenage alcohol use.
Over 50 percent of American youths between the ages of 12 to 20 have tried alcohol, but their young age, encouragement from peers, and still-developing brains increase the chances of developing a dependence on alcohol, especially if there are environmental and mental health risk factors present, such as a bad home situation, stress related to school and social life, etc. The American Psychological Association points out that teenagers in school report levels of stress that are equal to or even higher than those reported by adults. While most adults have the perspective and experience to control their drinking habits, even among friends, teenagers tend to lack such structures at their age.
In 2017, CNN reported on figures from the Centers for Disease Control that showed that even though numbers had declined, teenagers were still drinking at dangerous rates. One in every six teenagers binge drinks, but only 1 percent of parents believe that their teenager does. As many as 21 percent of high school students engaged in binge drinking within the past month, and almost 90 percent of the total alcohol that teenagers consume is a result of binge drinking.
Binge drinking is not simply drinking a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time; it is the process of deliberately consuming more alcohol than the body can metabolize. Since men and women have different metabolic rates, the definition of binge drinking for men is consuming five alcoholic beverages within two hours, and for women, it is four drinks in two hours. The University of Rochester Medical Center warns that this kind of drinking causes the blood alcohol level to rise far above the legal limit of 0.08 percent.
The inability of the body to fully process this much alcohol in the blood leads to far more than just intoxication. Binge drinking causes dizziness, loss of motor coordination, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and loss of consciousness. If a person vomits while unconscious, the vomit can block their airway, leading to death by suffocation.
Various organizations and studies have identified binge drinking as “the most common, costly, and deadly pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States.” While it is an exceptional danger for teenagers, adults are no less vulnerable. One in six adults binge drinks at least four times a month, drinking as many as six drinks in a single two-hour period. Binge drinking occurs among men twice as much as it does women. Across socioeconomics, the CDC found that binge drinking tends to happen more among people who have household incomes of $75,000 or more than among people who have lower incomes. That being said, when people with lower incomes do binge drink, they tend to do so more often, and they consume more drinks in the process.
The CDC found that in 2013, nearly 1.4 million people under the age of 20 took part in heavy drinking practices, consuming five drinks or more at least five times in a single month.
Alcoholism Treatment Statistics
Alcoholism is a dire public health problem, but treatment options are numerous, evidence-based, and effective. In compiling figures from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the National Institute on Drug Abuse noted that over 23 percent of the admissions to public treatment centers are due to alcohol abuse, the highest percentage of such admissions. Data from publicly funded rehabilitation programs revealed that the highest percentage of admissions to alcoholism treatment were those 25-29 years old, at 14.8 percent.
There are many different sources of alcoholism and addiction treatment. Some of them are well-known, like the 12-Step format of Alcoholics Anonymous or 28-day inpatient stays, but developments in psychology have revealed many more evidence-based modalities to help individuals control the compulsions that make them want to drink. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism cautions that there is no one-size-fits-all standard of treatment, and many people need a combination of approaches to address the underlying causes of their alcoholism, the immediate effects, and the long-term prospects of their sobriety.
Behavioral and Medication Therapy
Distinct types of treatment include behavioral approaches, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which looks to change drinking and negative behavior through counseling, whether in a single-client setting or a group therapy format. In 2009, the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs wrote that multiple studies showed that CBT was statistically significant in helping clients overcome their substance abuse urges, and it was effective “across a large and diverse sample” of research studies involving addicted patients.
Other behavioral therapies include approaches like Motivational Enhancement Therapy, Community Reinforcement Therapy, and Contingency Management interventions, among many others. Which therapeutic strategy to use will be based on the client’s current mental health state, lifestyle, family history, and other environmental factors.
While behavioral therapy is a vital and necessary part of the alcoholism treatment process, many clients also need medication to help them stop or reduce their drinking. For clients struggling with alcoholism withdrawal effects during detoxification, such as fever, anxiety, diarrhea, muscle cramps, or insomnia, anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines can be administered by doctors to ease the process. Even after the client has completed the detox stage, medications like disulfiram are available as negative reinforcement against the temptation to relapse. Other substances, such as vitamins and supplements, can help to replenish minerals, fluids, and electrolytes that are lost as a result of the alcohol abuse itself or its damaging effects on the body.
Outside of a treatment program, individuals should continue to receive support from peer groups, which can also provide personal accountability and motivation to continue to avoid the temptation to drink and offer reinforcement in the event of relapse. The most famous kind of these kinds of groups is Alcoholics Anonymous, based on the 12-Step model. AA’s membership and figures are private, so no objective statistics are available. This has caused many people and organizations to seek out other forms of alcoholism treatment.
However, AA has significant support within the treatment community. In 2010, the Journal of Studies on Alcohol concluded a report on a long-range study on “the efficacy of three behavioral treatments for alcohol abuse and dependence” by saying that recovering alcoholics who help other recovering alcoholics maintain their long-term sobriety after formal treatment do better in maintaining their own sobriety.