Alcohol Abuse in America
The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that 85.6% of people aged 18 and older drank alcohol at some point in their life, 69.5% had drank in the past year, and 54.9% had drank in the last month. While drinking in moderation can be safe and even have some health benefits, not everyone can control how much they drink.
That same year, 25.8% of people 18 and older reported binge drinking in the last month and 6.3% reported heavy drinking. Both binge drinking and heavy drinking are forms of alcohol abuse that can lead to tolerance, dependence, and, eventually, alcoholism.
Alcohol is legal for people over the age of 21 to purchase and is sold at bars, restaurants, gas stations, shows, events, and more. It is also a popular stable at any party, gathering, or backyard BBQ. Being such a common and socially acceptable substance, it is also readily available – even to people who can’t legally purchase it. As a result, it is easy for virtually anyone to get their hands on. This accessibility also makes it one of the most abused substances in the United States.
Even though alcohol is legal and socially acceptable, people who abuse alcohol are susceptible to a variety of short and long-term effects that can slowly but surely derail their life. Let’s take a look at the various effects of chronic alcohol abuse.
Short-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse
Shortly after a person consumes alcohol, the effects will begin to set in. Depending on how much alcohol a person has consumed and what level of tolerance the person has, signs and symptoms of alcohol intoxication include:
- Slurred speech
- Lack of coordination
- Upset stomach
- Blurry or double vision
- Impaired judgment
- Slowed reflexes
- Decreased perception
- Distorted vision and hearing
- Slowed breathing
- Blackouts or memory lapses
- Warm or red face and skin
People who binge drink or abuse alcohol may be more prone to additional short-term effects, including:
- Accidental injuries like falls, assault, or violence
- Unintentional accidents like burns, drowning, or car crashes
- Difficulty getting work done or loss of productivity
- Arguments and disagreements with family members, friends, or significant others
- Alcohol toxicity/alcohol poisoning
- Sexual problems
- Vitamin B deficiency
- Stomach ulcers
- Nerve damage
While many of the short-term effects of alcohol are temporary, there are other long-term effects that can occur if a person’s drinking continues in an unhealthy way.
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease that won’t go away on its own. Heavy drinking can damage virtually every organ in the body if left untreated. In fact, excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for 261 deaths each day, or 95,000 deaths each year. And, heavy alcohol abuse can reduce a person’s lifespan by almost 29 years.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant which means it slows down essential body functions. Drinking too much can lead to slurred speech, loss of muscle coordination, and inability to think straight. When abused long-term, alcohol can have fatal consequences.
Chronic alcohol consumption can significantly impair one’s judgment, lower inhibitions, and reduce one’s overall ability to function. Complications that commonly occur among people struggling with alcohol use disorder include:
- Relationship problems
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Accidental injury
- Legal problems
- Criminal activity
- Risky or unprotected sex
- Mental health issues such as depression or anxiety
In addition to these social and emotional effects, alcoholism can take a serious toll on someone’s health. For example, long-term chronic alcohol abuse can lead to:
- Digestive problems
- Liver disease
- Heart problems
- Menstruation issues
- Eye problems
- Birth defects
- Sexual dysfunction
- Weakened immune system
- Neurological issues
- Bone damage
Even worse, when a person who is addicted to alcohol tries to stop drinking, he or she will experience painful withdrawal symptoms, some of which are potentially fatal. Alcohol withdrawal can cause seizures, delirium tremens, hallucinations, and more, especially in high-risk patients. As a result, it is never advised for anyone to stop drinking without first consulting with a medical professional.
The liver and pancreas suffer the most from long-term alcohol abuse. Problems like cirrhosis, pancreatitis, and liver failure are all far too common among people who are addicted to alcohol.
The Effects of Problem Drinking at Work
Heavy alcohol use can have a dramatic impact on a person’s ability to think and function. This can ultimately lead to a loss of productivity at work. Alcohol abuse can make it difficult to focus at work, stay awake, and function properly. People who have been abusing alcohol may struggle with hangovers, mood swings, cravings, and impairment that are evident at work. As a result, many alcoholics struggle to maintain their careers.
The Economic Burden of Alcohol Abuse
According to the CDC, excessive alcohol use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. It also costs the nation more than $250 billion each year. Much of these financial losses come from a decline in workplace productivity due to drinking. However, up to 77% of these costs are due to binge drinking.
While each U.S. state varies in terms of the economic impact of alcohol, the total cost of alcoholism in the U.S. is thought to cost each American citizen $807 each year. Other reasons for the financial impact include:
- Healthcare expenses
- Criminal justice expenses
- Motor vehicle crashes
Societal Impact of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol abuse and alcoholism can increase the rate of crime and criminal activity. Of the 11.1 million victims of violent crime each year, nearly 25% report that their offender had been drinking prior to committing the crime. And, in regards to violence between intimate partners, ⅔ of the offenders had been drinking prior to attacking their partner.
Violence isn’t the only time of crime alcohol abuse can influence. People who abuse alcohol may have poor decision-making skills causing them to drink and drive, steal money or items, or engage in unsafe sex. Some drinkers will combine alcohol with other drugs and get caught up in the illicit drug trade.
Alcoholism can also affect families in a number of different ways. First, alcohol use disorder is thought to have a biological component. People who are born into families with alcoholics may be more likely to abuse alcohol themselves. However, children who are raised in alcoholic homes may also be at a higher risk for mental illness, addiction, and developmental difficulties.
Heavy drinking can also destroy relationships. Numerous marriages, jobs, and friendships have been ended over a person’s inability to stop drinking. Alcoholism can make a person struggle to make good decisions, act irrationally, and forget anything else that mattered to them. In the end, alcohol abuse affects more than just the individual suffering – it affects everyone around him or her.
Help for Alcohol Abuse
Studies reveal that 15 million Americans struggle with alcoholism. However, it is estimated that only 10% of these people get professional help. This means a large number of problem drinkers do not change their ways and continue to harm themselves and others around them. Unfortunately, alcoholism won’t go away without professional help. It is a disease that may continue to get worse and, in the end, land a person in jail, in the hospital, or in his or her grave.
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol, we are here to help. Pick up the phone and call today to start your sobriety journey.