What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism also medically known as “alcohol use disorder” (AUD) pertains to severe drinking problems. It is a critical relapsing mental disease accompanied by an inability to control alcohol drinking, compulsive alcohol use, and depression from not using it.

To know if an individual is diagnosed with AUD, they must meet at least two of the 11 criteria under DSM-5 within a 12-month period. The intensity of the AUD status (mild to severe) depends on the number of criteria met by the person.

How Big of a Problem is it in the United States?

Alcohol drinking has become a common thing in any culture or society. People drink for different reasons such as to celebrate occasions, to relax, and to socialize with others. To understand the current status of alcohol drinking, below are some facts and statistics reported by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Alcohol Use in the United States

Below are some facts and figures based on the 2015 report of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

  • Prevalence of Drinking:
    86.4% - ages 18 and above engaged in alcohol drinking
    70.1% - people who drank in the past year
    56.0% - people who drank in the past month
  • Prevalence of Binge Drinking and Heavy Alcohol Use:
    26.9% - ages 18 and above engaged in binge drinking for the past month
    7.0% - engaged in heavy alcohol drinking for the past month

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in the United States

  • Ages 18 and above:
    15.1 million (6.2% of this age group) people under this age group are diagnosed with AUD where 9.8 million (8.4% of this age group) are men while 5.3 million (4.2% of this age group) are women.
    Around 6.7% of adults with AUD received treatment in the previous year where 7.4% are men and 5.4% are women of this age group.
  • Ages 12-17:
    Approximately 623,000 people under this age group have AUD where 298,000 are men and 325,000 are women.
    An estimated 5.2% under this age group received treatment in the previous year where 5.1% are men and 5.3% are women.
  • Approximately 88,000 people (62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol drinking
  • Alcoholism is the third major factor for death in the United States. The top contributor is tobacco while poor diet and physical inactivity come in second.
  • 9,967 deaths (2014): alcohol-impaired driving

Economic Burden

  • $249 billion:
    Approximate cost accounted for alcohol misuse in 2010.
    75.0% of this amount is accounted for binge drinking.

Global Burden

  • Around 3.3 million or 5.9% of global deaths are accounted for by alcohol drinking in 2012.
  • In 2014, around 200 diseases, injuries, and cancers were attributed to alcohol consumption based on World Health Organization reports.
  • In 2010, alcohol consumption on a global perspective is the fifth contributor to premature death and disability.

Underage Drinking

Facts and figures below are retrieved from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

  • Prevalence of Drinking (2015):
    33.1%: 15-year old individuals who experienced at least 1 drink in their lives.
    7.7 million (20.3% of this age group): engaged in alcohol drinking for the past month.
  • 19.8% male and 20.8% female
  • Prevalence of Binge Drinking (2015):
    Ages 12-20: 5.1 million people under this age group are engaged in binge drinking.
  • Prevalence of Heavy Alcohol Consumption (2015):
    Ages 12-20: 1.3 million people are engaged in heavy alcohol use
  • Consequences
    Alcohol consumption during teenage years definitely alters the normal adolescent cerebral development and higher chances of being diagnosed with AUD.
    Other adverse results include injuries, sexual assault and death

Alcohol and College Students

Facts and figures below are retrieved from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

  • Prevalence of Drinking (2015)
    Ages 18-22: 58% of this age group of college students were drinking alcohol in the past month
  • Prevalence of Binge Drinking (2015)
    Ages 18-22: 37.9% of this age group of college students engaged in binge drinking for the past month
  • Prevalence of Heavy Alcohol Use (2015)
    Ages 18-22: 12.5% of this age group engaged in heavy alcohol use for the past month
  • Consequences
    Around 1,825 college students (ages 18-22) died from motor-vehicle accidents due to alcohol influence
    Around 97,000 college students (ages 18-22) are victims of sexual assault due to alcohol influence
    An estimated 20% of college students are diagnosed with AUD
    Approximately 1 in 4 college students have low academic performance due to alcohol consumption

Alcohol and Human Body

  • In 2015, around 47% of the 78,529 liver diseases among ages 12 and above are attributed to alcohol use.
  • Around 76.5% of total deaths from cirrhosis among ages 25-34 are accounted for alcohol use.
  • Around 70% of total deaths from cirrhosis among ages 35-44 are accounted for alcohol use.
  • Alcohol consumption elevates the risk for cancers of the breast, liver, mouth, esophagus, larynx, and pharynx.

What are the Classifications of Alcoholic Beverages?

There are two major groups of these drinks: fermented and distilled. Below is an enumeration for the classifications of these beverages under the two groups.

Fermented Beverages

  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Perry
  • Cider
  • Mead

Distilled Beverages

  • Spirit: Vodka, Gin, Rum, Tequila, Brandy, Whisky
  • Liqueurs (Flavored and sweetened spirits)

How Strong are the different types of Alcoholic Beverages?

It’s always better to know the strength of the drinks to know how much a drinker could tolerate. Each type of alcoholic beverage has its respective strength that is usually expressed either in percent volume or proof number. Proof number is simply twice the percent volume number (e.g. 5% x 2 = 10 proof).

Below is a summary chart for the types of alcoholic drinks with their corresponding descriptions and strengths.

AbsintheMacerated anise, wormwood, and fennel are immersed in alcohol and distilled.
The distillate can be dyed naturally with herbs, usually greenish color – thus known as “green fairy”.
AquavitA clear Scandinavian spirit made from grain or potatoes which is distilled with caraway, water, and dill seeds.
Stored and matured inside wood or sherry casks
BeerMade from brewed malted barley, yeast, hops, and water
Fermented inside a cask
BrandyWine distillate which stored and matured for a minimum of 1 year in oak casks36-38%
CachacaLiquor made from Brazilian sugarcane
Sugarcane juice is fermented for 24 hours, later distilled and aged for 3 years
CalvadosMade from apple juice which is first fermented into cider
Cider then undergoes distillation twice before diluted for bottling
CiderHigh tannin content apples are macerated and fermented at 4-15° until all sugars are converted to alcohol, then transferred to new barrels with yeast for fermentation
Stored up to 4 years
CognacWine is distilled twice at 80° and aged inside a cask for 4 years
The name came from a French town “Cognac”
GinA distillate made from grain or molasses mixed with spices such as juniper berries or coriander and flavorings like nutmeg38-47%
GrappaMade from fermented pomace which is then distilled37.5%
LiqueurA flavored spirit that contains at least 100 g sugar per liter solution15-40%
MeadWine made from honey, water, and yeast11-16%
MescalDistillate made from the fermented solution of Agave hearts40%
PilsBottom-fermented lager beer
The brewing method came from Plsen, a Czech town
PortSweet red wine crafted by stopping complete sugar fermentation when added with brandy17%
RumDistilled sugar cane wine that is aged in oak barrels40-55%
SherrySpanish white wine mixed with brandy14-16%
TequilaDistillate made from fermented Blue Agave38-50%
VermouthWine mixed with herbs and spices for flavorings-
VodkaMade from several distillations of fermented rye, wheat, or potatoes37-55%
WineWhite wine: pressed ripe grapes which are fermented with yeast
Red wine: lightly crushed ripe grapes which is fermented
WeissbierA German term for a white beer or “Hefeweizen” in the US
Fermentation of 50% wheat with a slightly cloudy appearance
A clear solution of this is called Kristallweizen or crystal wheat
WhiskyDistillation of fermented mash of grain and yeast
Twice distillation in Scotland
Three times the distillation process in Ireland
Bourbon in the US is composed of 51% corn and aged in charred barrels

How long does Alcohol stay in your system, blood, urine, saliva, breath and hair?

This substance when inside the body is metabolized by the liver for some period of time. When undergoing an alcohol detection examination, below is the approximate time it stays in your system.

  • Blood test: 6 hours
  • Urine test: 12-24 hours
  • Saliva test: 12-24 hours
  • Breath: 12-24 hours
  • Hair test: up to 90 days

How does one get addicted to alcohol?

There are several factors that affect a person’s tendency to be dependent and addicted to alcohol. These things can be grouped into four major factors: biological, psychological, socio-cultural, and spiritual factors.


This indicates the influence of genes from parents and one’s physical makeup to resist or tolerate alcohol in the body.


This tells that the chance of being alcohol dependent greatly relies on one’s mental conditioning to resist cravings.


This emphasizes the impact of the external environment to influence a person’s tendency to drink and be alcohol dependent.


This indicates that a person develops alcoholism if one’s purpose of living is gone.

How does alcohol use affect the brain and the body?

In general, this substance affects the level of neurotransmitters inside the brain which leads to evident physical manifestation such as difficulty to balance, slurred speech, and low body coordination.

Below is a summary of its effects on the various parts of the brain.

  • Cerebral cortex: This part is responsible for the cognitive processing and consciousness of a person. Alcohol depresses or slows down the cognitive function and information processing of the brain towards the five senses.
  • Cerebellum: This part controls the motor skills of the person. Alcohol disturbs the center movement, balance, and voluntary muscle coordination of the person.
  • Hypothalamus and pituitary: It disturbs the normal communication pathways of hormones inside the body. This often leads to low sexual performance.
  • Medulla: This part controls the autonomic function of the brain. Alcohol slows down the activity of the medulla resulting in drowsiness, slow breathing patterns and low body heat.

What are the short and long-term effects of alcohol?

Below are some of the short-term and long-term effects associated ingesting this substance.

Short-term effects:

  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Slurred speech
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Bleary vision and hearing
  • Blackouts

Long-term effects:

  • Increased chance of getting unintentional injuries
  • Increased level of violence
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Cirrhosis
  • Brain damage
  • Decreased sexual performance
  • Decreased Vitamin B1 levels which lead to apathy and memory loss
  • Ulcers and Gastritis
  • Oral cancer

Why is alcohol dangerous?

This substance is considered dangerous because of its highly addictive potential, withdrawal symptoms and harmful physiological and mental effects on the body. Its antibacterial trait injures any cells by causing dehydration. Likewise, it deteriorates nerve cells and causes nerve inflammation which further leads to impaired sensations and permanent brain damage.

What causes alcohol overdose?

In general, one experiences an overdose of this substance when he drinks too much and too quickly of it.

Excessive alcohol drinking can occur for the following reasons or situations:

  • Peer pressure
  • Extreme negative emotion such as depression and grief
  • Events that creates an intense positive or negative feeling
  • Combining it with opioids or other sedative-hypnotic drugs

What are the signs of an overdose?

When one experiences alcohol overdose, manifestations can be observed readily once the effect kicks in. Here are some of the common symptoms for an overdose.

  • Mental confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Slower heartbeat
  • Slower reflexes
  • Cold clammy skin

How do you treat alcohol overdose?

If a person exhibits signs of an overdose, immediately call for an ambulance. Nevertheless, while waiting for it to arrive, you may apply the following assistance:

  • Keep the patient conscious and monitor vital signs
  • Let them be in a comfortable sitting position. If they want to lie down, make sure to turn their head to the side.
  • If breathing is not difficult, allow the patient to drink water.
  • If the patient is unconscious, place them in the recovery position and check if they’re breathing.
  • Never give them coffee or any caffeinated products for it worsens dehydration.
  • Never let them lie on their back.
  • Do not allow them to walk or do unnecessary movements which may worsen drowsiness.

What are the withdrawal symptoms from alcohol?

The symptoms occurring when an alcoholic suddenly stops drinking is called alcohol withdrawal symptoms (AWS). These symptoms manifest within 6 hours to several days after the last drink.

Withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Slower heartbeat
  • Cold clammy skin
  • Slower reflexes
  • Extremely low body temperature
  • Inability to stay conscious
  • Cognitive impairment

How can you treat alcohol addiction?

There's definitely no all-in-one solution for this problem. It takes multiple treatment combinations which are customized to a person's status. Here are some of the options you can consider for treatment.

  • Behavioral Treatments:
    Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This can be done through a one-on-one session or in a small group. Its main purpose is to change the behavior and mindset of the patient.
    Motivational Enhancement Therapy: This is done for a short duration to establish and reinforce the motivation of the patient to change for the better.
    Marital and Family Counseling: Here, the importance of the family members is emphasized for the fast and effective recovery of the patient.
    Brief Interventions: This is a short one-on-one or small group session with the counselor. The patient is informed about his drinking pattern, risks and there’s facilitation in setting goals for the patient.
  • FDA Approved Medications
    Naltrexone: Reduces heavy drinking
    Acamprosate: Helps the patient avoid alcohol cravings
    Disulfiram: Inhibits the metabolism of alcohol in the body. Associated side effects include vomiting and redness of the skin.