April marks Alcohol Awareness Month, and its purpose is to bring attention to alcohol consumption and drinking patterns. For many, alcohol is consumed minimally with few complications. For others, however, alcohol consumption can become a problem. Problematic alcohol use is not uncommon, with over 15 million people in the United States developing alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol can contribute to physical and mental health problems. You can take steps to reduce your alcohol consumption and protect yourself against the harmful effects of alcohol.
Alcohol Use Statistics
It is no surprise that alcohol consumption in the United States is common. So common, in fact, that 85.6% of adults report drinking alcohol at some point throughout their lives. Additional statistics on alcohol consumption include:
- In 2019, 69.5% of adults reported alcohol use within the past year.
- In 2019, 25.8% of people 18 and older report binge drinking within the past month.
- In 2019, 14.5 million people ages 12 and older had an alcohol use disorder.
- In 2019, 414,000 minors aged 12-17 had an alcohol use disorder.
- Only 7.2% of people ages 12 and older who had an alcohol use disorder received any treatment in 2019.
- Only 7.3% of adults diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder received substance abuse treatment in 2019.
Binge drinking refers to the consumption of 4 or more drinks in one sitting for women and five or more drinks for men. Binge drinking is the most common form of excessive alcohol use across the country.
Studies show that binge drinking:
- Can lead to death
- Can increase a person’s risk of engaging in risky and harmful behaviors
- Increases a person’s risk for multiple diseases
- Occurs in 1 out of 6 adults
- Occurs at least weekly for 25% of the people who binge drink
- Occurs in 90% of adults who report drinking excessively
- Is twice as common among men than in women
- Is most common among younger adults between the ages of 18-34
- Is most common among those who live in the Midwest, report a higher income ($75,000 or more), and are non-Hispanic White
The Impact of Alcohol
The impact of alcohol use can be felt on a personal, financial, and societal level. It is known that heavy alcohol use can contribute to physical health problems as well as mental health issues. The most catastrophic consequence of heavy alcohol use is death. Unfortunately, nearly 95,000 people die from alcohol-related issues every year.
The physical, behavioral, and mental health problems related to alcohol use can be long-term or short-term and range in severity from mild to severe.
Short-term effects of alcohol use include:
- Poor judgment leading to violence such as physical aggression, sexual assault, suicide, and homicide
- Alcohol poisoning as a result of high blood alcohol levels
- Stillbirth and miscarriage among pregnant women
- Risky sexual behaviors
- Physical injuries such as burns, drowning, falls, and car accidents
Long-term health risks of alcohol include:
- A weakened immune system increases your risk of getting sick
- Developing cancer in the mouth, breast, throat, voicebox, colon, liver, rectum, and esophagus
- High blood pressure
- Digestive problems
- Liver disease
- Problems with family members and other loved ones
- Unemployment and other job-related issues
- Memory impairment and difficulty learning
- Poor school and work performance
- Development of alcohol use disorder or alcohol dependence
- Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression
On a societal level, misuse of alcohol:
- Costs the United States billions of dollars each year
- Was the seventh leading risk factor for premature death and disability in the United States in 2016
- Contributed to 5.3% of the burden of injury and disease across the globe in 2016
- Caused over 200 injury-related health conditions and diseases in 2018, consisting of road injuries, liver disease, suicides, cardiovascular disease, violence, and cancers, according to the World Health Organization
Signs That Your Drinking May Be Problematic
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a diagnosable illness that is treatable with the help of licensed addiction and health professionals. While the diagnostic criteria are a bit beyond the scope of this piece, you can look out for certain things when trying to assess your relationship with alcohol.
Warning signs that your relationship with alcohol may be problematic include:
- You feel a strong desire or need to drink alcohol.
- You wanted or tried to stop drinking, but you were unable to.
- You drank for a more extended period or drank more than you had planned.
- You spend a lot of your time drinking or recovering from the effects of drinking.
- You keep drinking even though it made your anxiety and depression symptoms worse.
- You experienced withdrawal symptoms when you stopped drinking, such as irritability, shakiness, sleep problems, depression, anxiety, sweating, or stomach issues.
- You have to consume more alcohol to feel the effects of it.
- You put yourself in dangerous situations due to drinking alcohol, such as unsafe sex practices and driving under the influence of alcohol.
- You continue to drink even though it is causing problems in your relationships.
- You have had problems at work, at home, or in relationships due to being intoxicated or hungover.
- You have cut back on activities that you once enjoyed so you could drink.
How to Reduce Alcohol Consumption
Whether you are concerned about your alcohol use or want to reduce your consumption to reduce the risks associated with the problems listed above, you can help reduce your alcohol intake and improve your overall health. The very first step is to develop awareness regarding your alcohol consumption. Understanding how much you drink and the frequency of alcohol use is the first step.
Additional strategies to reduce alcohol consumption include:
- Set a goal: Identify and write down a goal related to your alcohol consumption. Maybe you set a goal to drink once a week or once a month.
- Keep track of your consumption: Write down the amount and frequency of use as well as the day and time. This can help you develop an awareness of your drinking patterns.
- Don’t buy alcohol to keep in your home: If you don’t have it available, you can’t drink it.
- See a therapist: Address mental and emotional challenges that may be contributing to your desire to drink.
- Ask for support: Reach out to your doctor for additional resources such as self-help and support groups, and medication that can help curb your desire for drinking.
- Minimize temptation: Limit the amount of time you spend at the bar and engage in activities where drinking is the main priority.
- Explore additional hobbies: Learn a new skill or hobby that doesn’t involve alcohol to help you stay busy and find enjoyment.
If you feel that you may be struggling with alcohol use and may even have an AUD, talk to your doctor or a trusted loved one. Fortunately, treatment options are available if you are struggling with alcohol use, and many different types of treatment options are available to you. Treatment options range in intensity and can be as intensive as inpatient treatment, where you live in a licensed treatment facility for a specific length of time and receive care by licensed medical professionals 24 hours a day, seven days a week. During inpatient treatment, you can expect to have individual, and group counseling as well as attend support groups and receive necessary medical care in the form of medications and supplements.
Intensive outpatient treatment is a less intensive option that involves several hours a week spent at an outpatient facility where you will receive individual and group counseling. Still, you would continue to sleep at your home. This option is beneficial if you have a strong support system and a safe, stable living environment. Intensive outpatient is usually three hours, three times a week; however, that varies based on the treatment program you attend.
Outpatient treatment is the least restrictive form of treatment and involves your attendance for an hour or two each week on an outpatient basis. Treatment is usually composed of individual counseling; however, family counseling and support groups are possible also. Outpatient treatment allows you to live at your home and continue working and is usually suitable for individuals who have sustained some amount of clean time or whose alcohol use disorder was mild.
Many people choose to enter a detoxification program before starting treatment. Detox is the process by which drugs and alcohol are safely eliminated from the body. However, withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant, uncomfortable, and, in some situations, life-threatening.
Help Is Available
There is no better time than now to take inventory of your alcohol consumption. If you are struggling with managing your alcohol use, help is available in the form of formalized treatment, support, and medication. If you need help paying for your alcohol treatment medication, Scriptsave® WellRx can help save on the cost of your prescription.
Jacquelyn Buffo is a licensed professional counselor with experience and expertise in substance abuse and mental health issues. She received her MS in mental health counseling from Capella University and is a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor through the state of Michigan. She is also in the process of receiving her certification in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Jacquelyn has experience working with clients suffering from addiction and mental health issues on an in-home, residential, and outpatient basis. Currently, she works with adolescents and adults with Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, PTSD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder through Henry Ford Health System.
11 ways to curb your drinking - Harvard Health
Drinking too much alcohol can harm your health. Learn the facts | CDC
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD): MedlinePlus
Types of Treatment Programs | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) (nih.gov)