Although many people come into contact with alcoholism at some point in their lives, the condition is widely misunderstood. People think that it only takes willpower to overcome an addiction to alcohol or that it is easy to do so. These and other misconceptions make it difficult for people suffering from alcoholism to get help because they feel as though they are weak, or they fear the stigma of admitting that they are addicted to alcohol.
Many people have these moments of clarity where they realize their drinking is out of their control, but because they do not want to seem weak to their families, friends, and co-workers, they decide to try to quit drinking on their own. This is much more difficult than quitting with the support of professionals and other people who are trying to get sober.
Alcoholism is an interesting condition with psychological and physical aspects that make it complex and somewhat difficult to understand. However, when people know more facts about alcoholism, the addiction becomes less stigmatized in society.
1. Alcohol is the most commonly abused drug in the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 60% of people over 18 years old are drinkers; 53% of adults drink regularly and 13% drink infrequently. The CDC defines regular drinking as having 12 or more drinks per year. Being a regular drinker does not mean that a person is abusing alcohol, but some drinking habits are unhealthy.
2. People who regularly binge drink are 40% more likely to develop an addiction to alcohol.
Binge drinking is one such unhealthy behavior that is often a precursor to alcohol addiction. One in six American adults have at least four binge drinking episodes each month. Although binge drinking is usually associated with college students, the fact is that 70% of binge drinkers are over 26 years old. People over 65 who binge drink do so even more often than people from other age groups with five or more episodes each month.
Alcohol is easy for most people to get, even if they are under the legal age limit. This, combined with the fact that people bond over it at social gatherings, makes people associate drinking with having a good time. It has a wide appeal to people of every age group and socioeconomic background. This makes it very easy to begin abusing alcohol, and the point when someone’s drinking begins to become a problem is not always clear.
3. About 10% of people who drink alcohol will become an alcoholic at some point in their lives.
Alcohol’s wide availability and reputation as a part of a thriving social life contribute to the high number of people who become addicted to it. Compare alcohol’s addiction rate of 10% with cocaine’s addiction rate of about 3%. Cocaine is also used by people who want to party, but it is much more expensive and much more difficult to get.
However, it is not just the ease of getting alcohol that causes addiction. A number of other factors, such as depression or anxiety, also contribute to a person’s likelihood of developing an addiction to alcohol.
4. Men are more likely than women to develop alcohol addictions.
About 17% of men will have an alcohol addiction at some point in their lifetimes. This is over twice the percentage of women who will develop an addiction; only about 8% of women become alcoholics.
It is not entirely clear why men are so much more likely to have drinking problems than women, but there are a few factors that seem to add to the problem. Men drink much more than women do, and they are twice as likely to engage in binge drinking.
5. Women metabolize alcohol much more slowly than men do.
The fact that women metabolize alcohol more slowly means that they feel the effects of alcohol for a longer period of time than men do, making them less likely to drink more.
Women’s slower metabolism also causes more health problems from drinking. Men who are alcoholics can drink heavily for years or decades before experiencing health problems, but women generally cannot. Women often have alcohol-related physical health problems within five to ten years of starting heavy drinking.
6. Alcohol is involved in nearly half of the accidents that occur in the workplace.
In about 47% of cases of workplace injuries and other accidents, alcohol was involved in some way. 10-20% of deaths that occur in the workplace are also due to alcohol intoxication. These accidents can involve someone who is drunk at the time of the accident or is still recovering from a hangover. Drunkenness and hangovers, both make people negligent; a person who is impaired is physically unable to be aware of their surroundings constantly and take the right safety measures to avoid accidents. People who are drunk or hungover on the job increase their chances of causing accidents, or hurting themselves or co-workers by about five times.
Although drinking on weeknights is not itself a sign of alcoholism, a person with an addiction is much more likely to drink excessively even if they have work the next day, and to go to work while still drunk or hungover. Many people slip up and need to take a day off from work because of overindulging in drink the night before, but people with drinking problems are more likely to use up all of their sick time due to their alcohol use, forcing them to choose between going to work or losing their jobs.
7. Alcohol is one of the most difficult drugs to quit.
Many people are able to quit drinking with or without therapy or treatment, but relapse rates for alcohol are high. People who complete a treatment program are 90% likely to relapse at least once in the five years following their treatment. People in recovery are often triggered by stressful situations and social pressure to drink.
8. Alcoholics are 18 times more likely to use prescription drugs to get high.
The prescription drugs alcoholics most commonly use are opiates, sleep medications, stimulants, and anxiety medications.
Many alcohol-related deaths are also related to prescription drug abuse. Prescription medications have different health effects when combined with alcohol. Some people take stimulants when drinking to enable them to drink more without passing out; other people take opiates or sedative medications to amplify the physical effects of the alcohol.
9. One-third of all people with depression or anxiety exhibit problem drinking behavior.
In many cases where a depressed person also has a drinking problem, the sadness and hopelessness led the person to drink. Women who have a history of depression are twice as likely to become alcoholics because they use alcohol to help them forget their depressed feelings. Depressed teenagers are also twice as likely as their non-depressed peers to develop drinking problems.
10. Some medications can help with treatment.
Although there is no drug to cure alcoholism, some medications can help people overcome their addiction to alcohol. Antidepressants are often prescribed in treatment centers to help alcoholics overcome their depression.
There are also some medications that cause the person to feel nauseous after drinking alcohol. These medications are helpful in overcoming alcoholism because the person’s mind will no longer associate alcohol with feeling good. Instead, the person begins to associate the taste of alcohol with nausea and vomiting, which will help curtail their desire to drink.