Alcohol isn’t illegal for people of a certain age in the United States, but it still is one of the most abused and in some cases, destructive substances.
People may drink alcohol for different reasons including to celebrate, as part of cultural events and holidays, to relax, or to feel freer. People with mental health disorders may also drink as a way to self-medicate. Some people might occasionally drink and experience few if any negative effects. Other people may find that it’s difficult for them to control their drinking, and they may engage in dangerous or problematic behaviors while they’re drinking alcohol.
The Effects of Alcohol
When you use alcohol, it affects brain neurotransmitters and in particular GABA. It changes the functionality of the brain in different ways, and communication pathways are altered. Drinking alcohol can lead to changes in both mood and behavior because of how it affects the brain.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, meaning it slows many of the body’s essential functions. This can lead to problems with coordination, thinking, and memory.
Over time, heavy drinking doesn’t just affect the brain. Alcohol abuse can cause damage to the heart, liver, pancreas and most other parts of the body.
What Is Alcohol Abuse?
Again, not everyone who drinks alcohol does so in a way that’s problematic or could be considered abuse. However, if someone is a heavy drinker and they continue to drink even when there are negative side effects or outcomes, it can be considered abuse.
Even if someone abuses alcohol, they may not be addicted to it. Someone who abuses alcohol may not even drink all that frequently, but when they do it can become problematic. Binge drinking is an example of alcohol abuse, but this doesn’t necessarily mean an addiction is present.
Alcoholism (Alcohol Addiction)
Addiction is a diagnosable, chronic disorder that’s complex but treatable. The primary sign that someone has an addiction disorder is the compulsive and out-of-control use of a substance, in spite of bad consequences or outcomes. An alcohol addiction can be characterized based on the number of symptoms a person has. For example, it can be mild, moderate or severe.
Some of the possible signs of alcohol abuse can include:
- Failing to meet personal or family responsibilities
- Problems with performance at school or work
- Depression or changes in mental health
- A focus on drinking or cravings for alcohol
- Problems controlling one’s drinking
- Failed attempts to stop drinking or cut down on alcohol consumption
Another issue related to alcohol abuse is dependence. When the brain is repeatedly exposed to a psychoactive substance like alcohol, it can become used to the presence of that substance.
If an alcohol dependence forms and a person stops using it suddenly or tries to cut down, they may go through withdrawal.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be severe and can include seizures and delirium tremens. It’s important to seek medical guidance before attempting to stop using alcohol if you believe you could be dependent.
Alcohol Facts and Statistics
The following are notable facts about alcohol use and abuse, as well as key statistics.
- According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 86.4 percent of people aged 18 and older said they’d had alcohol at some point in their life
- Of the above respondents, more than 70 percent said they’d had alcohol in the past year and 56 percent said they’d had it within the past month
- In a 2015 survey, nearly 27 percent of respondents 18 and older said they’d engaged in binge drinking within the past month and 7 percent said they’d engaged in heavy alcohol use in the month prior to the survey
- It’s estimated that more than 15 million adults in the U.S. have some level of an alcohol use disorder including 9.8 million men and 5.3 million women
- Each year it’s estimated that 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes
- Alcohol use is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States currently
Learn more about alcohol abuse and addiction by reading our in-depth articles and reports at My Addiction Info.