Alcohol is very common in the United States. It is legal, widely accepted, and poses a dangerous threat of abuse, addiction, and overdose. In some ways, it could be considered one of the most dangerous substances when abused because it changes the brain and the body permanently, can cause long-term health consequences and can kill a person if they withdraw without medical help.
- 86% of the population 18 and older had alcohol at least once in their life.
- 70% report drinking in the last year.
- Almost 26% of people reported binge drinking in the last month.
- It was estimated in 2019 that almost 15 million Americans 12 and older struggled with an alcohol use disorder. This can be broken down to 9 million men and 5.5 million women.
These statistics are striking, and unfortunately, only around 7% of these individuals received any type of treatment for their alcohol use. It’s been shown that most individuals with an alcohol use disorder seek help from a primary doctor rather than an alcohol abuse treatment center.
- Almost 19% of ER visits come from alcohol misuse or abuse.
- 22% of opioid-related overdoses also involved alcohol.
- Research estimates that there are around 95,000 deaths annually in the United States from alcohol.
- Alcohol is also the 3rd leading cause of preventable deaths in the US.
- There were over 10,000 DUI fatalities due to alcohol in 2019.
- It is also estimated that there are about 8 million children living with a parent that has an alcohol use disorder.
Signs of Use
Alcohol use is relatively normalized in the United States, so it can be difficult to determine whether someone has a drinking problem. But there is a clear difference between normal, social drinking and having a dependence on alcohol to get through the day. Some signs of use involve:
- Poor coordination
- Slurred speech
- Impaired thinking and memory
- Wanting to stop drinking but being unable to do so
- Having trouble with responsibilities in work, school, or family
- Lying or being secretive
- Isolating from family or friends for fear of them finding out
- Engaging in risk, life-threatening behavior
- Feeling distressed when alcohol is not within reach
- Lack of basic hygiene or always smelling like alcohol
- Random and extreme loss or gain of weight
- Nausea or stomach/gastrointestinal issues
- A yellow skin tone
Alcohol overdoses are particularly dangerous because even after a person stops drinking, their body continues to metabolize the alcohol in their body. This means that the person can continue to get drunk well after they stopped drinking.
An alcohol overdose can lead to lifelong permanent brain damage as well as many other long-term consequences such as car accidents, legal issues, stroke, heart disease, liver problems, nerve damage, ulcers, gastrointestinal diseases, malnutrition and cancer of the mouth or throat.
Symptoms of an alcohol overdose include:
- Mental Confusion
- Loss of Consciousness
- Trouble Breathing
- Slow Heart Rate
- Low Body Temperature
Recovery is Possible
Alcohol addiction can be an extremely isolating disease. Watching other people’s success stories can be helpful in showing that sobriety is a very real and achievable possibility.
Withdrawing from alcohol can be an extremely dangerous process if done without medical supervision. Extended alcohol use can cause permanent alterations to the brain, and because those changes increase a person’s dependence on drinking just to function, stopping suddenly can lead to death.
Typically, alcohol withdrawal beings 6-12 hours after the last drink. After 24-72 hours, symptoms may become critical and require medical attention. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are increased anxiety, nausea and vomiting, sweating, insomnia, hallucinations, seizures, delirium tremens, and fever.
Treatment for Alcohol Abuse
When a person gets medical help for their withdrawal symptoms, they may be prescribed a variety of different medications, such as:
- Naltrexone: FDA approved to reduce alcohol cravings.
- Nalmefene: Reduces cravings and diminishes any rewarding effects that might be felt from alcohol.
- Acamprosate: Reduces cravings and works well to reduce the risk of relapse.
- Disulfiram: Causes extremely unpleasant reactions when alcohol is consumed.
The most effective plans are going to include a combination of medication therapy as well as talk therapies, group therapy, and any holistic options that the client and clinician decide will be helpful. These may include:
- Chiropractic Care
- Massage Therapy
- Equine-Assisted Therapy
- Art Therapy
National Alcohol Resources
- Alcoholics Anonymous: This is the nationwide site that provides resources and meeting times and dates for AA groups local to wherever you are.
- Al-Anon: Support for family members of people who struggle with alcohol use is also vital, so the Al-Anon website provides information for meeting times as well as location and resources.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: A collection of information, research, and resources about alcohol use and alcoholism.