Male and female, young and old, rich and poor: no one is immune to the harsh reality of alcohol addiction. Indeed, the facts and statistics of alcohol addiction—one of the most common and devastating health problems in the United States—paint a troubling picture. It’s estimated there are more than 12 million alcoholics in our country; three-fourths of all adults drink alcohol, and six percent of them are alcoholics; and nearly 40,000 people die each year of alcohol addiction-related illnesses.
Unfortunately, the numbers are especially troubling for young people: nearly seven million 12- to 20-year-olds are binge drinkers, and those who begin drinking alcohol before the age of 15 are four time more likely to become alcoholics than those who don’t begin drinking until the age of 21. Additionally, there are more than 50,000 cases of alcohol poisoning reported each year, and some 30 million people admit to driving under the influence of alcohol, leading to a death every 30 minutes in an alcohol-related automobile accident.
If you count yourself among the approximately 53 percent of adults who have one or more close relatives with a drinking problem, these alcoholism facts and statistics no doubt strike close to home. And indeed, it should, as much alcohol abuse runs in families as a genetic predisposition, as well as manifests itself in familial behavior patterns that often lay the groundwork for alcoholism later in life. Sometimes, children mimic the examples set by parents; other times what begins innocently enough as mere experimentation in our younger years turns into an out-of-control problem, one that can ultimately destroy relationships with family and friends, impact work or school, and seriously jeopardize one’s health.
The causes of alcohol addiction of course vary from individual to individual, but perhaps the best place to begin is to know the facts about how alcohol affects the body: simply stated, it’s generally believed that when you consume enough alcohol over time chemical changes occur in the brain, changes that emphasize pleasurable feelings. Unfortunately, in many people those feelings create an increased desire for more alcohol. Therefore, the disease of alcoholism develops gradually over time, and often slowly enough that a person may not realize they have a problem until it’s too late.
For those wondering about the risk factors of alcoholism, it’s important to realize that they vary from person to person, but some well-known markers are widely recognized: males who consume more than 15 drinks a week; females who consume more than 12 drinks a week; consuming more than five drinks per occasion at least once a week; having a parent with alcoholism; and coping with a mental health problem such as depression or anxiety. You may also be at greater risk for developing alcoholism if you are a young person under the rigors of peer pressure or experience low self-esteem or a high degree of stress on a regular basis.