Table of Contents
- The Substance of Alcoholism
- Cause of Alcoholism
- Alcohol Use Disorder (Alcoholism) Diagnosis Criteria
- Alcoholism Statistics
- Implications of Alcoholism
- Alcoholism Demographics
- Alcoholism Treatment
The Substance of Alcoholism
Alcoholism is a well-known term used in medical and non-medical realms alike. The general public tends to have an idea of what alcoholism is in terms of characteristics, personal and health impacts, and causes.
This article seeks to disprove many of the assumptions made regarding the term alcoholic / alcoholism and shed light on true statistics, causes, and overall impact this condition can have on life, health, finances, and more. While alcoholism is a general term, it is often used in place of the actual medical diagnosis alcohol use disorder (AUD). Such is the case in this article as well.
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Tips to Quit Drinking
Warning Signs of Alcoholism
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Benefits of Not Drinking Alcohol
Cause of Alcoholism
Genetic Causes of Alcoholism
Among all physical and behavioral characteristics, predisposition to alcoholism can be inherited through DNA. Roughly half the risk of AUD can be attributed to genetics, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Those that are genetically predisposed to alcoholism are at greater risk for developing AUD if or when environmental and social factors are present. The genetic cause of alcoholism is often overlooked by society and seen as an issue that someone may be too weak to confront, but this is often untrue. Therapeutic intervention may be necessary.
Environmental Causes of Alcoholism
Another large contributing factor to alcoholism is the individual’s environment. Environmental causes and or risk factors of alcoholism include stress, rocky relationships, career struggles, easy access to alcohol, peer pressure, and exposure to alcohol by family or friends. Not only do these environmental factors serve as triggers for alcoholism, but they are exacerbated as well by the alcoholism itself.
Social Causes of Alcoholism
Social causes of alcoholism range from family and home life to past trauma. Traumatic life experiences can greatly contribute to the development of AUD. Income and work also have an impact on the development of alcoholism, with unemployment being strongly related to AUD. A person’s past and present social experiences can serve as a large factor of their susceptibility to developing alcoholism. Social causes of alcoholism should not be overlooked when assessing an individual’s potential risk factor of developing AUD.
Alcohol Use Disorder (Alcoholism) Diagnosis Criteria
Alcoholism as a medical diagnosis (AUD) occurs when “a patient’s drinking causes distress or harm” (NIAAA). Alcoholism ranges in significance from mild to severe. A positive diagnosis is applied when the patient answers yes to at least two of the questions listed on the NIAAA website. Some of these questions include: Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended? Experienced craving – a strong need, or urge to drink? Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
Death Rates of Alcoholism
For those who have been diagnosed with AUD or have loved ones with such a diagnosis, the reality of the mortality rate of such individuals is concerning. Death rates of alcoholism are shocking, indicating that it is the 3rd leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. Alcohol is responsible for 95,000 deaths annually, which are roughly 68,000 male and 27,000 female deaths. With death rates of alcoholism reaching such astronomic numbers, it is clearly a public health crisis.
About one-third – or 30% – of alcoholics experience relapse within a year of their sobriety. There are both short and long-term relapses, but the longer the alcoholic stays sober the more likely they are to maintain their sobriety long-term. Once the individual makes it to five years of sobriety their relapse chances drop to 15 percent.
Implications of Alcoholism
Alcoholism has both health and non-health-related implications, ranging from mild life/ health interruptions to serious conditions, and even death. These side effects can also be classified as either short or long term.
Alcohol poisoning is an immediate potential health-related side effect of alcoholism, caused by high alcohol blood levels . Pregnant women who are alcoholics, or merely over-ingest alcohol during pregnancy, are are at risk for serious health consequences including miscarriage, stillbirth, and fetal alcohol syndrome.
Alcoholism causes serious long-term health effects as well. Common comorbidities and impacts of alcoholism on health include hypertension, various forms of cancer, cognitive decline, a weakened immune system, heart disease, stroke, and liver disease.
Some unpleasant, although not dangerous, side effects of alcohol addiction are alcoholic breath and sweat smell. The smells caused by the body’s processing of excess alcohol can sometimes be very off-putting.
Some immediate non-health-related effects of alcoholism include injuries, violence, risky behaviors, and motor vehicle accidents. Long-term non-health-related repercussions of alcoholism include imprisonment, financial strain, unemployment, relational strain, and homelessness.
Alcoholism is no respecter of age, race, gender, or socioeconomic background. While some of these factors play some part in the development of AUD, there is no exact stereotype of an alcoholic.
A 2018 National Health Interview Survey showed that race is not a adequate determinant of alcoholism. Alcoholism rates among listed racial groups range from 2 percent to 9 percent. The lowest (2%) were identified as African Americans and whites, and the highest (9%) were American Indians and whites. White Americans ranked as 8%, black Americans as 7%, and Hispanic Americans as 7%.
A 2019 survey showed that 7% of all males are likely to develop AUD, as opposed to 4% of all females. Men are also more likely to binge-drink than women.
Age is another important component of alcoholism abuse. Underage (under 21 in the U.S.) drinking is a serious public health concern. In 2019, the Young Risk Behavior Survey found that 29% of underage youth had drank alcohol in the past 30 days and 14% engaged in binge drinking. In 2020, the heaviest alcohol users among Americans were 30 to 34 years of age – 32.3% – with ages 45 to 49 years coming in second, at 27%.
Science and research have come a long way in the development of alcoholism treatment; this is especially true for genetic causes of alcoholism. It was once thought that those with a genetic predisposition to alcoholism would have greater difficulty in sustained recovery, but certain medications have been very successful in aiding sobriety. Aside from medications, alcoholism can be treated through rehabilitation programs, counseling, and support groups.
Alcoholism is a serious public health concern that rises in prevalence and severity each year. While there is no cure for alcoholism, there are treatment options and support groups available for those who suffer from this condition. Alcoholism causes a host of health, social, and relational issues that tend to compound over time, and erupt into chaos and uncertainty. If you are concerned that you have AUD, seek medical and therapeutic intervention. With professional treatment, recovery is always possible.