Last updated: May 22, 2023
Alcoholism and abuse, otherwise known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), destroy millions of lives each year. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines AUD as a “chronic relapsing brain disorder characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control use despite adverse social, occupational, or health hazards.”
The alcohol-related statistics released for 2019 by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) are sobering.
- 85.6% of people aged 18 and older reported drinking alcohol at some point in their lives
- 69.5% reported drinking in the last year
- 54.9% reported drinking within the last month
- 25.8% of those surveyed engaged in binge drinking within the past month
- An estimated 95,000 people die from alcohol-related causes each year in the U.S.
- 68,000 men
- 27,000 women
- 825,000 youth between the ages of 12 and 20 reported heavy alcohol use within the past month representing 2.2% of the age group
- 4.2 million youth between 12 and 20 years old reported binge drinking during the past month
Socially acceptable, but at what cost?
Alcohol use, of course, is widely accepted by society, but that doesn’t change the fact that users risk forming an addiction.
Research shows that, unfortunately, 50% of us are genetically predisposed to form addictions. If you aren’t included in that lot, the other 50% of addicts become one due to using alcohol as a coping mechanism. Using alcohol to deal with stress or uncomfortable emotions puts us in grave danger of becoming dependent which, of course, leads to addiction.
Signs and symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder
AUD is divided into three categories, they are mild, moderate, and severe. The diagnosis you receive depends on responses to the following:
- Do you regularly drink alone?
- You’ve tried to stop drinking but keep going back.
- Alcohol cravings become so strong that you can’t think of anything else.
- You experience periods of memory loss, otherwise known as blackouts.
- You gravitate toward events or activities that include drinking alcohol and spend the majority of your time with people who do the same.
- Do you have trouble taking part in daily or social activities that don’t include alcohol—including school and work?
- You give up on activities that you enjoy because you’d rather drink—it also takes a lot of your time to recover from drinking.
- You continue to drink even if it’s causing problems with family, friends, or coworkers.
- Being diagnosed with a health problem caused by drinking alcohol, such as liver problems, stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, or a stroke, doesn’t curb your intake.
- You develop alcohol tolerance and you’re drinking more to achieve the desired effect.
- You experience withdrawal tremors after not drinking for a short period.
- Drinking cures a hangover.
- You become angry or defensive when asked about your drinking habits.
- You put yourself in dangerous situations while drinking, such as driving or having unprotected sex.
Exhibiting two or three of these symptoms during the past 12 months indicates mild AUD. A moderate alcohol use disorder diagnosis occurs if four or five symptoms are exhibited during the same time frame. A severe case is determined when six or more symptoms occur.
If you or someone you know exhibits any of these symptoms, it’s wise to seek treatment—the sooner the better.
Consuming alcohol on a regular basis causes a variety of different chronic and acute health complications. Heavy alcohol consumption hastens the onset of health problems.
The list of ailments includes—but isn’t limited to—the following:
- Liver disease
- Immune system dysfunction
- Gastrointestinal disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Brain damage
- Cancer in the GI tract
The following changes in physical characteristics are also well documented:
The first step toward getting help, of course, is admitting that there’s a problem. Many people try to quit drinking on their own and do so—for a time. However, without acquiring the proper tools to combat the disease, the majority of those who quit on their own relapse at some point in their lives.
That’s not to say that going through a treatment program makes a person immune to the possibility of relapsing. However, treatment centers and outpatient programs focus on giving addicts the tools they need to fight alcohol cravings.
Alcohol use disorder rewires the brain… once it becomes dependent on alcohol to feel “normal,” cravings are inevitable. Being conscious of that fact and reacting proactively when struck with a craving greatly increases the odds that sobriety will win the day.
And, overall, abstinence is the key to success.
The stages of treatment for AUD can include:
- Detoxification or withdrawal to rid the body of alcohol
- Rehabilitation to learn new coping skills and behaviors
- Counseling to address emotional problems that trigger drinking
- Support groups, often including 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
- Medical treatment for health problems associated with AUD
- Medications, such as Naltrexone, Acamprosate, or Disulfiram to help control addiction
Prevention is possible
We must make people aware they risk becoming an addict every time they take a drink due to the brain forming a dependency on the drug. That becomes even more imperative when we remember that 50% of the population is genetically predisposed while the other 50% may use alcohol as a coping mechanism—
Even though alcohol use is widely accepted in our culture, at some point, everyone witnesses the detrimental effects that alcohol can have on someone’s life. Moreover, the children of addicts are eight times more likely to develop an addiction to alcohol. Educating our young people about the dangers of alcohol and how easily they can become addicted can make a huge impact on the next generation.
We need to present information to our employees about the dangers of alcohol addiction. Include facts about alcohol abuse, different treatment options, company policy—say we held someone’s position for them while they underwent treatment, perhaps—and present evidence of the difference sobriety makes in someone’s life.
Not only for the hope that it presents for tomorrow but for the life it might save today.