Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are two different conditions. Alcohol abuse is when your drinking is problematic. Alcoholism is when you have an addiction to alcohol and continue to drink despite the problems it causes. Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are common conditions, in fact, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism, it is estimated that 17.6 million — or one in 12 adults — in the U.S. abuse alcohol or are chronic alcoholics.[i]
Although there has been significant research into alcohol abuse and alcoholism, there is no known trigger. Rather, like drug abuse the cause seems to be a blend of factors. There are many known risk factors that may influence a person’s vulnerability of becoming dependent on alcohol including: genetics, family history, mental health and social pressures. Although children of alcoholics are four to five times more likely than the general public to become an alcoholic and people who start drinking at an early age have a much higher risk of abusing alcohol or becoming dependent in their lifetime[ii], studies have shown that treatment and prevention are very successful in helping a person overcome the risk factors.
Understanding Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol abuse may start with drinking to forget or to have fun with friends. It starts for a variety of reasons, but it results in serious consequences. It is not based on what you drink, when you drink or how much you drink, rather the effect of drinking on your life. Casual alcohol use is prevalent in American society, making it difficult to know when you or someone you love has crossed from use to abuse. In January 2012, the Centers for Disease Control reported that 50% of Americans over the age of 18 indicated that they drank more than 12 drinks in the past year.[iii]
Recognizing that alcohol is a very powerful drug is the first step in understanding alcohol abuse. Because of its widespread availability and minimal restrictions on use, alcohol abuse and alcoholism continue to be a health epidemic in the United States. Binge drinking, underage drinking and driving under the influence continue to plague our society. According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 30.2 million people (12.0 percent) aged 12 or older reported driving under the influence of alcohol at least once in the past year.[iv] Those that suffer from alcohol abuse may lose their jobs, their families and even their lives as a result of alcohol abuse.
Signs of Alcohol Abuse
The good news is that people today are more educated about the consequences of alcohol abuse. Knowledge is power, and knowing the signs of alcohol abuse can help you or a loved one seek treatment and live a healthy, productive life. Many people who suffer from an alcohol problem are unaware that their alcohol use has become a problem. Here are some warning signs, published by Georgetown University that may indicate an alcohol problem:
- Feeling annoyed by people who criticize your drinking or drug use
- Tendency to lie about alcohol abuse
- Impulsive or embarrassing behavior when drinking
- Frequent loss of memory of time spent drinking
- Chronic lateness and missed appointments
- Feeling bad or guilty about your drinking
- Unexplained drop in performance at work or school
- De-emphasizing the seriousness of drunken behavior
- Using alcohol or drugs first thing in the morning as an “eye opener” to steady nerves or get rid of a hangover
- Belligerent, violent, or antisocial behavior while drinking
- Repeated promises or failed attempts to reduce drinking
If these warning signs remind you of yourself or someone you care about, know that treatment has proven effective at treating alcohol abuse. Our treatment page outlines some of the common options when seeking help.