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ALCOHOL ABUSE: A MAJOR PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE
Learn More: Alcohol Facts and Statistics Fact Sheet
- Nearly 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
- In 2014, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 9,967 deaths (31 percent of overall driving fatalities).
- In 2010, alcohol misuse cost the United States $249 billion.
- Alcohol contributes to over 200 diseases and injury-related health conditions, most notably alcohol dependence, liver cirrhosis, cancers, and injuries.
Prevalence of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) and Untreated AUD:
- 16.3 million U.S. adults ages 18 and older had an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in 2014. This includes 10.6 million men and 5.7 million women.
- About 1.5 million adults received treatment for an AUD at a specialized facility in 2014. This included 1.1 million men (9.8 percent of men in need) and 431,000 women (7.4 percent of women who needed treatment).
ALCOHOL’S EFFECTS ON THE BRAIN
- In the short-term, intoxication compromises an individual’s decision making processes and the ability to recognize potential danger.
- This diminished capacity can lead to many negative and sometimes tragic consequences.
- In addition, alcohol affects the parts of the brain that help us walk, keep our balance, drive cars, talk, make choices and make new memories. As a result, consuming too much alcohol can cause people to fall and get hurt, drive cars dangerously, make bad choices and have memory blackouts for things they did while drinking.
- If people drink at very high levels, alcohol can turn off the parts of the brain that keep them breathing and their hearts beating, and they can die.
- Long-term heavy drinking can shrink the frontal lobes of the brain, which impairs thinking, planning and decision making.
- Long-term heavy drinking can cause a person to become addicted to alcohol and not be able to feel okay or function without it.
EFFECTS ON CHILDREN/FAMILIES
Learn More: Alcohol Facts and Statistics Fact Sheet
- More than 10 percent of U.S. children live with a parent with alcohol problems.
- Even though alcohol consumption by individuals under the age of 21 is illegal, about 8.7 million people ages 12-20 reported drinking alcohol in the past month. That is 22.8 percent of this age group – 23 percent of males and 22.5 percent of females.
FETAL ALCOHOL SPECTURM DISORDER (FASD)
Learn More: Fetal Alcohol Exposure Fact Sheet
- Fetal alcohol exposure occurs when a woman drinks while pregnant. Alcohol can disrupt fetal development at any stage during a pregnancy – even at the earliest stages before a woman may know she is pregnant.
- There is no known safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
- Prenatal alcohol exposure is a leading preventable cause of birth defects and neurodevelopmental abnormalities in the United States.
- Prenatal alcohol exposure can cause a range of developmental, cognitive, and behavioral problems, which can appear at any time during childhood and last a lifetime.
- Scientists define a broad range of effects and symptoms caused by prenatal alcohol exposure under the umbrella term Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).
- The risks of excessive drinking increase as we age, in part because older drinkers are more sensitive to alcohol’s effects on cognitive function including balance, coordination, attention, decision making and driving skills.
- Because the amount of water in the body declines with age, older people reach higher blood alcohol concentrations than younger people who drink the same amount.
- Drinking alcohol while taking medication for certain conditions can make those conditions worse. These conditions include: high blood pressure, diabetes, gout, and heart failure, as well as the risks of falls and fractures.
- In general, to be at low-risk for alcohol use disorder, healthy men and women over age 65 can have three drinks in a single day, but should not exceed a total of seven drinks in a week. Drinking more than these amounts puts people at risk of serious alcohol problems.
Myth: “Holding your liquor”:
Learn More: Rethinking Drinking
- For some people, it takes quite a few drinks to get a buzz or feel relaxed. Often they are unaware that being able to “hold your liquor” isn’t protection from alcohol problems, but instead a reason for caution. These people have an increased risk for developing alcohol use disorder (AUD). The higher alcohol levels that can result from “holding your liquor” can also cause liver, heart, and brain damage that may go unnoticed until it’s too late.
Myth: Alcohol is a stimulant:
- Initially, alcohol acts as a stimulant, and people who drink may feel upbeat and excited. But they should not be fooled. Alcohol soon decreases inhibitions and judgment and can lead to reckless decisions.
- As we consume more alcohol, reaction time suffers and behavior becomes poorly controlled and sometimes even aggressive – leading to fights and other types of violence. Continued drinking causes the slurred speech and loss of balance we typically associate with being drunk.
Myth: Shortening recovery time with caffeine:
- Many people believe that they will begin to sober up – and drive safely – once they stop drinking and have a cup of coffee. Caffeine may help with drowsiness, but not with the effects of alcohol on decision-making or coordination. The body needs time to metabolize (break down) alcohol and then to return to normal. There are no quick cures – only time will help.
Myth: There are no medications available to treat Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD):
- Some people are surprised to learn that there are medications on the market approved to treat AUD. The newer types of these medications work by offsetting changes in the brain caused by AUD. All approved medications are non-addictive and can be used alone or in combination with other forms of treatment.
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three medications for treating alcohol dependence, and others are being tested to determine if they are effective.
- Naltrexone can help people reduce heavy drinking by blocking the euphoric effects and feelings of intoxication produced by alcohol.
- Acamprosate makes it easier to maintain abstinence by reducing craving.
- Disulfiram blocks the breakdown (metabolism) of alcohol by the body, causing unpleasant symptoms such as nausea and flushing of the skin. Those unpleasant effects help some people avoid drinking while taking disulfiram.