All over the United States, people drink alcohol in excess, which has not only a detrimental effect on their physical health, but on the mental health of their families. Learn how alcohol affects the mind and body, as well as the health of the nation.
Alcohol Use Versus Abuse: What’s Healthy?
First, it’s important to distinguish alcohol use from alcohol abuse. Drinking alcohol isn’t necessarily detrimental to your health if you’re considered a “light” or “moderate” drinker. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designates “moderate” drinking as one drink per day for women and two drinks a day for men.
A drink is:
- 12 oz. of Beer
- 8 oz. of Malt Liquor
- 5 oz. of Wine
- 1.5 oz. of Liquor
Moderate alcohol consumption may actually be beneficial to your health, including decreased risk of stroke and heart disease. Experts think part of this may be because moderate drinkers are more likely to drink in a social setting, and strong interpersonal relationships decrease stress.
Drinking alcohol in excess of moderation is called heavy drinking or binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as more than 4 drinks in a single session for women, or more than 5 drinks for men. Excessive drinking is considered more than 8 drinks per week for women, or 15 drinks a week for men. It’s important to realize that most people who drink, even those who binge drink or drink excessively, are not alcoholics or alcohol-dependent
Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Use Disorder
When alcohol use begins to impair your ability to lead a healthy and productive life, it may be a sign of something more. Prolonged and heavy drinking can lead to alcohol use disorder (AUD).
AUD is a medical condition that requires people meet certain diagnostic criteria. For example, if you experience a strong craving to drink and drinking (or being sick from its aftereffects) interferes with your job, schooling, or ability to care for your family within the same 12-month period, you may have AUD.
You don’t have to have AUD to experience the negative health effects of drinking. Alcohol can be a risk factor for other conditions, like obesity, cancer, and diabetes.
The Prevalence of Alcohol Abuse in the United States
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that, excessive alcohol use led to almost 90,000 deaths annually from 2006-2010, shortening the average lifespan of those who died by 30 years. Excessive drinking is responsible for 10% of deaths among working-age adults in the United States.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), conducted annually by the National Institute for Health, found that 27% of those surveyed in 2015 reported binge drinking within the previous month. In the same year, 15.1 million adults aged 18 and older had alcohol use disorder. Of these people, only 8% received treatment.
Unfortunately, the death rate associated from alcohol use has increased in recent years, according to federal data. In 2015, the death rate reached a 35-year high, claiming nearly 31,000 lives. The United States has experienced a 37 percent increase in the number of alcohol-induced deaths since 2002. This number only includes deaths directly related to alcohol consumption – victims of drunk driving, accidents, and homicides where alcohol was a factor were excluded.
Alcohol Claims American Lives
Much of the public health headlines dominating the news of late have surrounded the opioid epidemic. Americans focus much less attention on the dangers of alcohol, perhaps because of its legal status. But it’s no less deserving of our attention. In fact, in 2014, alcohol-induced accidents killed more citizens than heroin and prescription opioids combined.
Drinking has increased across all Americans in recent years, but the increase has been more pronounced among women. The percentage of women reporting past month drinking rose from 47.9 to 51.9.
Alcohol Has Negative Health Effects
Heavy and prolonged alcohol abuse can lead to a host of health problems. Long-term drinking often leads to cirrhosis, a liver condition that can lead to death. In 2013, nearly half of all liver disease deaths were caused by alcohol. This was slightly more likely in men than women. Among all cirrhosis deaths in 2013, 48% were alcohol-related. Alcohol-related liver disease is also the primary cause of an estimated 1 in 3 liver transplants.
Alcohol abuse affects more than just your liver. Drinking also increases your risk of oral cancer, including the esophagus, pharynx, and larynx. In women, alcohol abuse is linked to an increased incidence of breast cancer.
Lastly, heavy drinking is bad for your heart. Over long periods of time, excessive drinking can cause serious health problems. Excessive drinkers are more likely to develop arrhythmias, stroke, high blood pressure, and cardiomyopathy, a condition characterized by the stretching of the heart muscle.
The Alcohol-Obesity Connection
Alcohol also has an indirect effect on our health by causing us to be more prone to obesity. At 7 calories per gram, alcohol is a calorie-dense substance that is often sweetened with sugar and other caloric additives. Excessive consumption of these calories can lead to positive energy balance and weight gain. Excess weight is also associated with numerous negative health outcomes, from cancer to diabetes.
Alcohol and Your Mental Health
Drinking can also increase anxiety or exacerbate feelings of depression. When we drink, our brains are wired to produce more cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. This can lead to increased anxiety when we stop drinking, which in turn may lead to an urge to drink more. It’s easy to see how a vicious cycle of alcohol abuse and stress can develop.
Alcohol Abuse in America
Alcohol use continues to be a major issue in America. Even though the majority of Americans who drink are not alcoholics or alcohol-dependent, they may still struggle with health problems caused by the consumption of alcohol. Alcohol-related health problems cost Americans almost $250 billion each year. It is time we take steps to address the problem.
Alcohol Addiction Is Becoming More Common and at Younger Ages! Please Don’t Let Alcohol Take over You or a Loved Ones Life! Speak to One of Our Counselors Today Before It Gets Worse!