What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism also medically known as “alcohol use disorder” (AUD) pertains to excessive drinking or severe alcohol use. Alcohol use disorder 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 alcohol use disorder, they must meet at least two of the 11 criteria under DSM-5 within a 12-month period. The intensity of the alcohol use disorder status (mild to severe) depends on the number of criteria met by the person.

How Big of a Problem Is Alcohol Use Disorder in the United States?

Alcohol abuse has also become a major problem in the United States. To understand the current status of alcohol use disorder in the United States, below are some facts and statistics reported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism is a prominent organization that conducts extensive research to understand the effects of alcohol consumption on human health, wellbeing, and safety.

We've also listed some statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), and National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

Alcohol Abuse statistics

Prevalence of Drinking:

  • 86.4% - ages 18 and above engaged in alcohol use
  • 70.1% - people who drank in the past year
  • 56.0% - people who drank in the past month

Prevalence of Binge Drinking and Excessive Alcohol Use:

  • 26.9% - ages 18 and above engaged in excessive alcohol consumption for the past month
  • 7.0% - engaged in heavy drinking for the past month

Ages 18 and above

  • 15.1 million (6.2% of this age group) people under this age group are diagnosed with alcohol use disorder 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 alcohol use disorder 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 alcohol use disorder where 298,000 are men and 325,000 are women.
  • An estimated 5.2% under this age group received treatment for alcohol use disorder in the previous year where 5.1% are men and 5.3% are women.

Alcohol-Related Deaths

  • Approximately 88,000 people (62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol abuse.
  • Alcohol abuse 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) were caused by 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 misuse in 2012.
  • In 2014, around 200 diseases, injuries, and cancers were attributed to alcohol misuse based on World Health Organization reports.
  • In 2010, alcohol abuse on a global perspective is the fifth contributor to premature death and disability.

Prevalence of Alcohol Use (2015):

  • 33.1%: 15-year old individuals who experienced at least 1 drink alcohol in their lives
  • 7.7 million (20.3% of this age group): engaged in drinking alcohol 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 drink or drink too much alcohol at one time

Prevalence of Heavy Alcohol Use (2015):

  • Ages 12-20: 1.3 million people are engaged in excessive alcohol use


  • Alcohol abuse during teenage years definitely alters the normal adolescent cerebral development. Teens who misuse alcohol have higher chances of being diagnosed with AUD.
  • Other adverse results of alcohol abuse include injuries, risks of sexual abuse and death

Prevalence of Drinking Alcohol in College Students (2015)

  • Ages 18-22: 58% of this age group of college students were drinking alcohol in the past month

Prevalence of Alcohol Abuse (2015)

  • Ages 18-22: 12.5% of this age group drink too much alcohol or excessive drinking for the past month


  • Around 1,825 college students (ages 18-22) died from motor-vehicle accidents due to alcohol misuse
  • Around 97,000 college students (ages 18-22) are victims of sexual assault due to alcohol misuse
  • Estimated 20% of college students are diagnosed with alcohol use disorders
  • Approximately 1 in 4 college students have low academic performance due to alcohol abuse

Alcohol and Human Body

  • In 2015, around 47% of the 78,529 liver diseases among ages 12 and above were attributed to alcohol abuse.
  • Around 76.5% of total deaths from cirrhosis among ages 25-34 are accounted for by alcohol abuse.
  • Around 70% of total deaths from cirrhosis among ages 35-44 are accounted for by alcohol abuse.
  • Alcohol misuse 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 alcohol 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)
  • Malt Liquor

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.

Absinthe· Macerated anise, wormwood, and fennel which are immersed in alcohol and distilled.· The distillate can be dyed naturally with herbs, usually greenish color – thus known as “green fairy”.45-75%
Aquavit· A clear Scandinavian spirit made from grain or potatoes which is distilled with caraway, water and dill seeds.· Stored and matured inside a wood or sherry casks37.5%
Beer· Made from brewed malted barley, yeast, hops and water· Fermented inside a cask4-6%
Brandy· Wine distillate which stored and matured for a minimum of 1 year in oak casks36-38%
Cachaca· Liquor made from Brazilian sugarcane· Sugarcane juice is fermented for 24 hours, later distilled and aged for 3 years38-51%
Calvados· Made from apple juice which is first fermented into cider· Cider then undergoes distillation twice before diluted for bottling40-45%
Cider· High 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 years2.5-5%
Cognac· Wine is distilled twice at 80° and aged inside a cask for 4 years· The name came from a French town “Cognac”35-40%
Gin· A distillate made from grain or molasses mixed with spices such as juniper berries or coriander and flavorings like nutmeg38-47%
Grappa· Made from fermented pomace which is then distilled37.5%
Liqueur· A flavored spirit which contains at least 100 g sugar per liter solution15-40%
Mead· Wine made from honey, water and yeast11-16%
Mescal· Distillate made from the fermented solution of Agave hearts40%
Pils· Bottom-fermented lager beer· Brewing method came from Plsen, a Czech town4.5-6%
Port· Sweet red wine crafted by stopping complete sugar fermentation when added with brandy17%
Rum· Distilled sugar cane wine that is aged in oak barrels40-55%
Sherry· Spanish white wine mixed with brandy14-16%
Tequila· Distillate made from fermented Blue Agave38-50%
Vermouth· Wine mixed with herbs and spices for flavorings-
Vodka· Made from several distillations of fermented rye, wheat or potatoes37-55%
Wine· White wine: pressed ripe grapes which are fermented with yeast· Red wine: lightly crushed ripe grapes which is fermented11-12%
Weissbier· A 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 wheat5-6%
Whisky· Distillation 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 barrels40-43%

How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System? Blood, Urine, Saliva, Breath and Hair

Alcohol, when inside the body, is metabolized by the liver for some period of time. When undergoing an alcohol detection examination, below are the approximate times 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

What Are the Side Effects of Alcohol Use?

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. In general, alcohol 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 how drinking too much alcohol affects 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.

Alcohol abuse deteriorates nerve cells and causes nerve inflammation which further leads to impaired sensations and permanent brain damage. But aside from affecting the nervous system, when you drink alcohol, it also affects other organs inside the body such as:

Liver: Liver disease as alcohol causes fatty liver, cirrhosis and other diseases that affect the liver.

Kidneys: Alcohol is a diuretic which increases urination; When you drink excessively, this eventually leads to dehydration. Dehydration can cause problems with kidney function.

Heart: Heavy alcohol consumption constricts the blood vessels and increases the risk of stroke and heart attack.

Gastrointestinal: Alcohol is known to cause inflammation in the stomach and intestines that can lead to ulcers, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Immune System: Chronic alcohol use makes a person prone to illnesses because it weakens the immune system. This can lead to serious health conditions.

Alcohol Abuse side effects

Below are some of the short-term and long-term side effects associated with drinking too much alcohol.

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
  • High blood pressure
  • Decreased Vitamin B1 levels which lead to apathy and memory loss
  • Ulcers and Gastritis
  • Oral cancer
  • Mental health problems
  • Higher risks of breast cancer

How Does One Get Addicted to Alcohol?

People abuse alcohol due to many factors such as: stress, depression, feeling of pleasure or peer pressure. Too much alcohol consumption leads to alcohol dependence that results in physical and psychological changes in the body. Such changes trigger addictive behaviors like craving for more drinks and increase tolerance.

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


Biological composition and family history can play an essential role in one's ability to tolerate or resist alcohol. This is mainly due to the genetic influence inherited from a person's parents and their physical makeup. Having a family history of substance abuse usually means a higher risk of alcohol abuse and dependence.


Psychological factors play an integral role in determining one's susceptibility to alcohol abuse. An individual's mental health can determine how often they succumb to their cravings for alcohol, greatly influencing the likelihood of developing alcohol dependence.


Social and cultural factors can influence a person's proclivity towards drinking and developing an alcohol dependency. Such environmental elements have profound consequences on their decisions to drink heavily.


Without a sense of spiritual purpose, one may turn to misusing alcohol as an escape for lack of meaning in life.

Why Is Alcohol Dangerous?

Alcohol abuse can result in harmful physiological and mental effects on the body. Many serious health problems are caused by drinking too much alcohol, including alcohol poisoning, liver diseases, brain damage and death.

Long-term alcohol abuse can result in mental illness and permanent impairment of mental faculties, such as memory and judgment. Even moderate drinking can raise the risk of breast cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Alcohol abuse can also increase the risk of injuries and legal problems that could have been prevented if a person was sober. For instance, one of the primary causes of injuries and deaths due to motor vehicular accidents is driving under the influence of alcohol (a blood alcohol concentration over 0.08 percent).

Moreover, alcohol can be particularly dangerous when combined with other substances. Mixing alcohol with illicit drugs or prescription medicines can have serious or even deadly consequences. Even when you try to quit alcohol after a long time drinking, alcohol withdrawal without the proper medical guidance can be fatal.

Risky drinking habits can also result in equally risky behaviors such as driving under the influence or engaging in unsafe sex or unprotected sex. These behaviors put a person at risk of harm and can lead to legal problems.

Pregnant women are also advised to avoid drinking alcohol, as alcohol consumption can be damaging to the development of a fetus.

Finally, alcohol abuse is linked with social and family issues, such as domestic violence, child neglect and abuse.

What Causes Alcohol Overdose?

Alcohol abuse, in its most severe form, can lead to an overdose. This is referred to as alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning happens when you have extremely high blood alcohol levels in your system.

You also have a higher risk of alcohol poisoning if you combine alcohol with other substances like opioids, benzodiazepines, and other illicit drugs.

What Are the Signs of an Overdose?

How do you know if someone with alcohol abuse issues is suffering from an overdose? Here are some signs to look for:

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

How Do You Treat Alcohol Overdose?

If a person exhibits signs of an overdose after heavy drinking, immediately call for an ambulance. Alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency and early treatment is important to avoid complications.

While waiting for help 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?

When you suddenly stop drinking alcoholic drinks, you could experience a wide range of withdrawal symptoms and health problems. These may include:

  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Sweating and shaking
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hallucinations or seizures
  • Headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal pain
  • Heart palpitations or rapid heart rate

Alcohol withdrawal can be painful and it can even be deadly if not managed well. To manage your alcohol problems, it's not advisable to stop drinking cold turkey. You have to seek medical help from licensed health professionals.

How Can You Treat Alcohol Addiction?

If you or one of your family members plan to quit drinking alcohol, the first step is to seek medical or professional help. Treatment for alcohol addiction includes detoxification, medication, and counseling.

Detoxification is the process of removing alcohol from your system. It usually takes a period of three days to two weeks while supervised by detox health professionals. FDA approved medications may be administered to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

Counseling is important in helping the patient understand their addiction and to help them maintain sobriety over time. This can be done through individual, group or family therapy sessions. Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery are also proven effective in treating alcohol addiction.

The goal of these treatments is to help individuals affected by alcohol abuse stay sober and live healthier and more fulfilling lives.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which is under the US Department of Health and Human Services, also offers a free helpline for people suffering from substance use disorders like AUD.