Alcohol addiction impacts millions of lives worldwide every year. The long-term effects on individual health and society as a whole are far-reaching and devastating. International and community-based projects work to provide preventative education and other resources for vulnerable demographics. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that 14.5 million Americans over the age of 12 have alcohol use disorder (AUD). Men are nearly twice as likely as women to develop AUD.
Social drinking is an ingrained part of our national identity, making it difficult for some people to understand alcohol addiction. You see it on social media, TV shows, movies, books, and in the community around you at bars, restaurants, and clubs. Alcohol is highly addictive and toxic to humans. Drinking above the recommended limit affects the brain, body systems, and general mental and physical health, leading to possible illness, injury, addiction, or even death.
Alcohol addiction is sometimes referred to as alcohol use disorder (AUD). The criteria you must meet to be diagnosed with this condition include the following:
If you exhibit an inability to control your drinking, especially when you regularly drink over the recommended daily or weekly amount, you should talk to your doctor about getting treatment. Anyone can become addicted to alcohol, but some known risk factors include genetics and the following:
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “in 2019, 4.2 million young people reported binge drinking at least once in the past month.” Alcohol is one of the most commonly used illegal substances by people under the age of 21. Younger people at risk for developing substance use disorders often start by drinking alcohol. Adolescents and young adults have easy access to alcohol, and many transition from drinking to other substances. Attending college after high school graduation provides opportunities to use study and party drugs.
Risk factors for mental health disorders and severe medical conditions increase significantly for younger individuals who experience alcohol addiction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports “excessive drinking is responsible for more than 3,500 deaths and 210,000 years of potential life lost among people under age 21 each year.” The best way to help these young people is through in-patient treatment at facilities that use an evidence-based approach to care.
Many people use alcohol to self-medicate and treat symptoms of underlying disorders, or addiction may develop independently of other co-occurring conditions. The prevalence of alcohol misuse makes AUD a widespread dual diagnosis. Here are some common co-occurring disorders found in people diagnosed with AUD:
Alcohol use often creates an artificial sense of calm and composure, causing many people to use drinking to self-medicate and treat symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress.
Physical health effects of alcohol may not manifest for years or slowly worsen over time, making it harder for people to notice the connection between their health decline and drinking. However, anyone experiencing AUD may observe some or all of the following health side effects:
Alcohol use disorder regularly overlaps with other conditions and their symptoms. Medical professionals sometimes find it difficult to untangle them. A holistic approach is the most successful way to treat alcohol addiction. Facilities and community-based centers use the following types of treatment and therapies:
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) pioneered the 12-Step method of recovering from substance abuse. Today the program is nearly universally accepted in private and state-run rehabilitation facilities as either a primary or secondary treatment. You can find out more about 12-Step programs by visiting the official alcoholics’ anonymous website.