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You may be surprised by the following statistics, which indicate just how large a problem the consumption of alcohol and alcoholism is in the United States and how it affects families and society as a whole.
If you are concerned about a friend or loved one’s (or even your own) drinking habit, the following may provide some valuable clues as to whether or not your concern is justified.

How Prevalent is Alcoholism?

  • thumb_glass_wine.jpgThe percentage of adults (18 and over) who are considered to be regular drinkers is 52%, defined as the consumption of at least 12 drinks in the last year (CDC, 2010)
  • The number of deaths attributed to liver disease caused by alcohol consumption was 14,406 (CDC, 2010)
  • Nearly 17.6 million adults in the United States have a problem with alcohol or are alcoholics (NIH, 2010)
  • Adults in the United States binge drink approximately 4 million times a day (CDC, 2010)
  • Binge drinking is most common in adult men aged 18 to 34 who come from higher income households ($75,000+ per year) (CDC, 2010)
  • About 2/3 of high school students who admit to drinking also admit to binging within the last month (CDC, 2010)
  • Every year, there are more than 100,000 deaths in the United States caused by excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Almost ½ of all fatal motor vehicle accidents are related to alcohol consumption (learn-about-alcoholism.com)
  • People are more likely to drink the more educated they are
  • People are more likely to drink the wealthier they are
  • The United States spends between 40 and 60 billion dollars per year on alcoholism
These statistics drive home the seriousness of the problem and illustrate that anyone, regardless of gender, education and income, can fall victim to alcoholism.

How is Alcoholism Defined?

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It wasn’t until 1991 that alcoholism became recognized by the American Medical Association (AMA) as a disease known as alcohol dependence syndrome. Just as with any disease, alcoholism is recognized as an illness requiring treatment. Without treatment, alcoholics are unlikely to recover on their own, although a few can.

Like any disease, alcoholism has recognized features that can be used to diagnose someone as an alcoholic. These four elements include:
  1. Craving- craving is defined as a strong compulsion or craving to consume alcohol
  2. Loss of control- alcoholics are often unable to stop drinking once they start
  3. Physical dependence- symptoms of dependence occur when an alcoholic stops drinking, including sweating, shaking, anxiety and nausea, and symptoms subside when the person drinks again.
  4. Tolerance- tolerance refers to the need for increasing amounts of alcohol in order to achieve the desired result (feeling “high”)
This dependence on alcohol leads to the inability to stop using alcohol. Alcoholics find it very difficult, if not impossible, to quit drinking on their own. It isn’t that they lack the drive or will to stop drinking; rather, they are dependent on alcohol and become ill when they try to quit, causing them to want to drink again to relieve unbearable symptoms. Alcoholism is a disease requiring numerous resources in order for the alcoholic to successfully stop drinking. In much the same way that someone with cancer may require an operation, chemotherapy and radiation to successfully overcome their disease, alcoholics require physical, mental and psychological support to overcome their addiction.

What are some of the Signs of Alcoholism?

Although the following signs should not be construed as being diagnostic of alcoholism, they provide valuable clues or warnings that alcohol is being abused or that alcoholism may be a concern:
  1. Drinking alone- many people drink in social gatherings or on special occasions; few people enjoy drinking alone. Drinking by oneself may imply a need for alcohol.
  2. Lying about how much alcohol is consumed- consistently lying to others about the amount of alcohol consumed indicates that the person is aware that their drinking may be perceived negatively by others.
  3. Increasing tolerance- if alcohol use increases steadily, the person may be requiring more alcohol to become inebriated
  4. Drinking more than others- if a person wants to stay at the party/bar longer than their friends, and tends to drink more, alcohol may be a problem
  5. Drinking upon awakening- if a person feels the need to drink immediately upon awakening in the morning, whether to cure a hangover or because they simply feel the need, alcoholism is more likely
  6. Consuming more alcohol than previously- if a person continues to steadily drink more alcohol than they used to, dependence may be occurring
  7. Experiencing blackouts- blackouts are a sign of the abuse of alcohol; if blackouts occur frequently, alcoholism may be a factor and may show an inability to stop drinking
  8. Drinking to calm nervous tension- using alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with stress may not be a sign of alcoholism, but may eventually lead to alcoholism
  9. Legal problems/Alcohol-related accidents- alcoholics may injure themselves while intoxicated, drive while intoxicated or become involved in physical altercations while drinking, another sign of abuse of alcohol
  10. Friends/Family members have spoken about a person’s drinking- if friends, family members or employers/coworkers have spoken to a person about their drinking, there is obviously a problem. Alcoholism has a negative effect on interpersonal relationships.
As previously mentioned, these signs are not diagnostic of alcoholism. However, they are strong indicators that a person may have a problem with alcohol- the more signs that are present, the greater the likelihood that a person may be an alcoholic and may need help.

Alcoholism is a devastating disorder that affects not only the alcoholic, but the people who care for them and society at large. If you feel that you may have a problem with alcohol, or someone you know exhibits one or more of the above symptoms, it is important to realize that help is needed to overcome alcohol addiction. With the necessary help, people are able to overcome alcoholism and go on to lead fulfilling lives free of alcohol.