According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “[In 2015], 15.1 million adults ages 18 and older had [alcohol use disorder]. This included 9.8 million men and 5.3 million women….623,000 adolescents ages 12-17 had AUD.” Alcohol abuse in the United States has become much more widespread than many people realize, and the statistics just climb higher with each passing year.
Why has alcohol abuse, known as alcohol use disorder or AUD by doctors and experts, become so prevalent? How is it possible that so many people fall victim to alcohol addiction in this current age of information that has revealed all of the detrimental effects of the addiction?
The answer is simple: American culture has normalized drinking. Alcohol is not illegal in the United States; it is just not allowed to be legally sold to anyone under the age of 21. Because of this, it is one of the most available and easily obtainable drugs in America. The normalization of drinking and the ease by which alcohol can be purchased have allowed for an unavoidable increase in alcohol abuse.
The Normalization of Alcoholism in America
Jim LePierre LCSW summed up America’s current view of drinking alcohol best when he stated, “Alcohol and caffeine are unique from all other drugs in that they are not only socially acceptable; it’s expected that adults in our culture use them regularly.” It’s entirely true. Drinking alcohol is seen as a “rite of passage” for many teenagers and young adults with many young people trying alcohol for the first time because of peer pressure. If you are an adult, you are expected to drink in many social situations, and if you are a teenager, you are seen as cool or popular if you drink alcohol.
Misunderstanding the Definition
The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines alcoholism as “a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations.” The most misleading term in this definition is the word chronic. Most people know that chronic means something that lasts for a very long time or is ongoing, but many do not realize that chronic also means “recurring” and “difficult to eradicate.”
Because most people are only aware of the most commonly recognized definition of chronic, they do not realize that that they can abusing alcohol even if they are not drinking every single day. Since drinking habits and behaviors have changed over the years, so has the definition of alcohol abuse. However, in those same years, instead of Americans becoming more aware of alcohol abuse, they have become desensitized to alcohol use.
Another way that alcoholism has been normalized in our country is through binge drinking. Binge drinking is the term that is given to the act of drinking excessive amounts of alcohol in a short time. What most Americans do not realize about binge drinking is that you only have to consume more than 4-5 drinks in a two-hour time window to fall into the label of binge drinking. Most college-aged people binge drink every single time they go to a bar or club. Moms drinking wine in the evenings to relax can even fall into binge drinking.
Some harrowing binge drinking statistics are:
- 1 in every 6 U.S. adults binge drinks about 4 times a month.
- Binge drinking is most common among adults between the ages of 18 and 34.
- Binge drinking is associated with alcohol poisoning, violence, and memory/learning problems.
- In 2015, 26.9 percent of people aged 18 and older reported to have engaged in binge drinking in the past month.
Binge drinking is so widely accepted simply because most people do not believe they are binge drinking. They are at a family reunion or celebrating a friend’s birthday or playing video games with their friends and just enjoying some drinking – but casual drinking quickly becomes binge drinking as you become intoxicated, start drinking faster, and begin to lose track of the number of drinks you’ve had.
The Mommy Wine Culture
The Mommy Wine Culture has made mothers who drink wine every evening into the new stereotypical mom. With the help of social media, the wino motherhood craze has spread like wildfire. There are terms like “mommy juice” and “wine o’clock” used by those mothers who post their wine life on social media. Hashtags like #mommyneedsadrink and #boozymama decorate the Instagrams of mothers all around the United States.
While this trend is seen as harmless by most Americans (because of their desensitization to drinking), the reality of the Mommy Wine Culture is that many women are abusing alcohol without even realizing it. One glass of wine leads to three glasses which leads to an entire bottle gone in a couple of hours. Not only is the mother in danger of becoming a full-fledged alcoholic, but her children are growing up with at least one parent that is teaching them that drinking every single day is normal.
Then, there are the memes – the little graphics meant to make light of mothers drinking wine. One mother has stated, “I definitely feel [the memes] encourage moms to drink. They made me feel like it was not only perfectly acceptable for moms to drink, but also that I should be drinking.” Motherhood is much harder today than it was in the past, and many mothers deal with intense levels of stress. However, instead of reaching out to mothers in a healthy and positive way, America decided to focus on spreading the idea that wine is the best stress reliever and the newest must-have motherhood accessory.
The Alcohol Statistics that Worry Experts
Binge drinking and the Mommy Wine Culture are only two of the ways that America has normalized drinking. The fact is that there are too many to list here, but there are some notable statistics that show how much drinking has increased in the past years. The following statistics are taken from the article, “The Way Americans Drink Alcohol is Changing and Experts are Worried,” written by Lindsay Holmes. It features statistical information that was gathered that shows the difference in alcohol use in 2001-2002 and 2012-2013.
- A 6.8% increase in alcohol use in men
- A 15.8% increase in alcohol use in women
- A 15.5% increase in high-risk drinking in men
- A 57.9% increase in high-risk drinking in women
- A 34.7% increase in alcohol use disorder in men
- A 83.7% increase in alcohol use disorder in women
The article shows an incredibly eye-opening increase in alcohol use between 2001 and 2013 in America, especially among women. It goes further to explain a couple of reasons why alcohol use has increased.
- It is less taboo for women to drink in today’s society than it was in the past.
- Alcohol prices dropped and their advertisement began targeting women.
- The daily life of an American today is very stressful.
- Anxiety and other mental disorders can contribute to drinking.
These are just a few hypotheses of experts who have noticed the astonishing rise in the alcohol use habits of Americans over the years. Perhaps the United States should focus more on normalizing the treatment of stress and mental illnesses instead of the act of drinking alcohol. If most people claim to drink because of stress, this could kill two birds with one stone.
10 Warning Signs of Alcoholism You Might Not Notice (When You’re the Alcohol Abuser)
Alcohol abuse within yourself is not always easy to recognize. Denial and justification are powerful and can help convince even the most knowledgeable people that they are not abusing alcohol. However, alcohol abuse generally affects your life negatively, and you may begin to question your drinking habits and choices. You may begin to notice the one factor present in every bad thing you are dealing with is alcohol.
Some signs of alcohol abuse that you can look for within your own life are:
- You are drinking alone or hiding your drinking. Chances are, if you are often found enjoying multiple drinks at your home while alone or you are hiding the fact that you drink as often as you do from other people, you are abusing alcohol.
- You are experiencing issues with your work, school, and/or family because of your drinking. Many people who abuse alcohol prioritize their drinking over everything else. Additionally, it’s hard to keep up with your daily life if you are always drunk or hungover. This will lead to negative affects on your work, school, and family.
- Are you missing lots of work or school?
- Is your performance at work or school suffering?
- Are you spending less time with your family at home and more time drinking at bars?
- Are you driving with your family in your car while intoxicated?
- You continue to drink alcohol in spite of the fact that it is causing health, financial, and family issues for you. The abuse of alcohol is detrimental to your body, expensive, and a burden on your family, as well. Alcohol use disorder can cause regular anxiety and depression. You can experience blackouts. Your money for bills and family needs will disappear extremely fast if you drink it away. This can cause even more strain on your family.
- You experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms if you don’t drink. Those suffering from alcohol abuse can experience withdrawal symptoms within the first 24 hours of their last taste of alcohol. Not all alcohol abusers will experience withdrawal this fast, but after a few days without any alcohol, those that abuse alcohol will experience withdrawal.
- You have built a high tolerance for alcohol, and you crave alcohol when you don’t have it. Tolerance and cravings of any substance tend to point to abuse. Does it take you much more alcohol to get drunk now? Then, you have built a tolerance. Your body is more likely to have become dependent on the alcohol. Do you have intense cravings for alcohol when you are not actively drinking? Cravings point to a physical or psychological addiction.
- You cannot stop drinking, and you cannot control how much you drink. Many people with alcohol use disorder report that they have tried to stop drinking and couldn’t. This is not uncommon. Once your alcohol abuse has led to physical dependency, you cannot simply stop drinking – it is impossible without entering full withdrawal and going into detox. Furthermore, if you cannot control how much you are drinking, then the alcohol is controlling you.
- Your family and friends have made comments on how much you drink and have said that you have a drinking problem. If multiple loved ones have told you that you have an issue with drinking, you should listen to them. Most of the time, you will not be able to see your own actions clearly – especially if you are always drinking and if you are in denial. Your loved ones will try to help you get better, so accept the help!
- You experience extremely long hangovers, mood swings, and irritability. These symptoms can point to your body not being able to deal with consuming the amount of alcohol that you’ve become accustomed to. Take a moment and consider how your body feels – every ache and pain. Then, consider how many of those aches and pains would not exist if you would not drink as much alcohol.
- You feel guilty about your drinking. This is a tell-tale sign of alcohol abuse. If you truly felt that you were not doing anything wrong or harmful, you would not have feelings of guilt. If you really thought that you were not negatively impacting your life, you would not have feelings of guilt. If you knew for a fact you were not an alcoholic, you would not have feelings of guilt.
If you notice any, all, or just some of these symptoms in yourself, you may be abusing alcohol. If you believe that you might be abusing alcohol, your first step should be to speak to your family doctor about it. If you need more proof that you are abusing alcohol, you can take a self-assessment online. Your doctor can help you look more into your alcohol use, establish if you are in full-fledged addiction, and help you come up with a plan to get sober.
Finding Treatment After Acceptance
Once you have acknowledged and accepted your personal alcohol abuse, it is time to move to the next step – treatment. The kind of treatment you need will depend entirely on your addiction. How much did you drink? How often did you drink? Why did you drink? Does alcoholism run in your family? Have you been drinking since a very young age?
All of these questions are more will come up during your discussion with your family doctor to determine what kind of treatment you need. There are several treatment options.
If you are suffering from a mild alcohol addiction (which means that your physical body has not developed a dependency on alcohol), the following options are available for you:
- Behavioral Treatments – These treatments include a health professional that uses counseling to get your drinking behavior under control. Some types of therapy that are used are cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, marital and family counseling, and brief interventions.
- Medications – In the U.S., there are currently 3 medicines that are approved by the FDA that are made to help people stop drinking or to reduce the amount people drink and their chance of relapse. Only a doctor can prescribe these medicines, and they are often used together with counseling.
- Mutual-Support Groups – Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) offer support groups and 12-step programs to help you get sober and have support during your journey.
If you are suffering from a long-term alcohol abuse history or have a mental illness that is coexisting with your alcohol abuse, you will need more in-depth and careful treatment in order to get sober and remain sober.
Your three stages of treatment will include:
- Detoxification – This stage involves removing all toxins and alcohol from your body. Some detoxing can be done at home, however, if you have a severe alcohol addiction, you will need medical detox. Detox can last 1 to 3 weeks while your body goes through withdrawal and completely rids itself of all traces of alcohol.
- Rehabilitation – Your rehabilitation choice will be determined by the severity of your addiction and your personal preferences. There are a few rehabilitation options to choose from.
- Long-term Inpatient Rehab – 60 or more days living in a rehab facility
- Short-term Inpatient Rehab – 30 days living in a rehab facility
- Outpatient Rehab – a predetermined amount of time during which you live at home and visit your rehab center on predetermined dates and times for your rehabilitation
- Maintenance – Once you are sober, you have to continue to work to stay that way. If you do not feel that you can face your normal, daily routine again without relapsing, you can choose to live at a sober living home to get you ready for sobriety in the regular world. If you are confident in your sobriety, you can find your local AA group for support while living your normal life.
The Truth About Alcohol Abuse
When most people are asked what an alcoholic looks like or behaves like, there is one stereotypical answer, and it almost always includes a man with horrible hygiene that is likely homeless. He also doesn’t have a job or a family, and, if he does have a family, they do not claim him. He most likely encountered trauma or abuse as a child, and he comes from a family of alcoholics.
Guess what? The stereotypical alcoholic is a lie. In fact, there are 5 different subtypes of alcoholics. 19.5% of U.S. alcoholics fall under the subtype of High-Functional alcoholic. Did you know that this type of alcoholic looks like a completely ordinary person? They do not come from alcoholic families, and they do not have traumatic childhoods. They live completely normal lives, often having incredibly successful careers and big, happy families. 62% of them hold full-time jobs, and 26% of them have a college degree or higher.
Remember this when you are feeling guilty about your alcohol abuse. It can literally happen to anyone. You can make the decision that sets you apart from all other alcohol users – you can decide to get sober and change your life. Admitting that you are abusing alcohol and getting treatment is not weakness – it is a strength. What will you choose?