Alcoholism or Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is one of the biggest problems in the United States, though it’s often overshadowed by the opioid crisis.
According to the CDC, more than 88,000 people die from alcohol-related deaths each year in the United States. That adds up to nearly 1 million people in this decade alone. So, why isn’t it getting the urgent attention and prominence it demands?
For starters, we have allowed ourselves to neglect the risks of alcohol use because it’s legal, easily available, and socially acceptable. But that doesn’t make it any less dangerous. In reality, alcohol misuse has affected people across genders, ages, and socioeconomic statuses for hundreds of thousands of years, and the disease of alcoholism is more common and kills far more Americans than opioid use disorder.
College partying has normalized problematic drinking for young adults. According to a national survey, almost 55 percent of full-time college students ages 18 to 22 drank alcohol in the past month and about 37 percent engaged in binge drinking during that same time frame. Many people joke “once you graduate, you’re an alcoholic.” Those with undiagnosed or unmanaged mental health disorders can easily spiral in environments like this, as they think they can drink normally with their peers.
According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, it is estimated that 16 million people in the United States have alcohol use disorder. AUD is a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not drinking.
People who are dependent on alcohol often hide some of their symptoms, and some may simply deny the severity of them. These are some of the most common signs of alcohol use disorder to look out for:
- Feeling a strong craving or urge to drink alcohol or being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
- Spending a significant amount of time drinking alcohol or recovering from the effects of alcohol use
- Failing to fulfill major obligations at work, school or home due to repeated alcohol use
- Continuing to drink alcohol even though it results in negative consequences (e.g., losing a job, getting a DUI, etc.)
- Skipping out on social activities and hobbies that you once used to joy
- Developing a tolerance to alcohol so you need more to feel its effect or you have a reduced effect from the same amount
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms (e.g., nausea, sweating, shaking) when not drinking or drinking to avoid these symptoms
Though alcohol misuse is common in teenage years, alcohol use disorder occurs more frequently individuals in their 20s and 30s. However, it can start at any age.
While there are a variety of genetic, psychological, social, and environmental factors that can contribute to a person developing alcohol use disorder, these are some of the common risk factors associated with it:
- Steady drinking over time, specifically more than 15 drinks per week for males and more than 12 drinks per week for females
- Binge drinking habits starting at an early age
- Family history of substance abuse
- Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia.
- History of trauma or stress-related situations
- Social and cultural factors