Most people in America consume alcohol periodically, more than 85 percent in fact. Occasional use of alcohol is not necessarily harmful. Some doctors claim that small quantities of alcohol add to the beneficial effect of a good diet in reducing the incidence of heart disease.

But as with many things, the danger lies in the excess. Moderate drinking is considered two drinks or less for men or one drink for women daily. Binge drinking is the even occasional consumption of five or more alcoholic drinks for men and four or more drinks for women on a single occasion.

In a nationwide survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Centre for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, more than 25 percent of those aged 18 and over reported participating in at least one binge-drinking episode during the past month. Even occasional or special occasion bingeing is not considered healthy behavior.

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Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is when alcohol consumption becomes a struggle for the individual to control. This disorder may put your health, safety, and even others at risk, for instance, due to driving under the influence. Moderate to severe cases of AUD is often referred to as alcoholism.

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) affects us all, whether directly by any personal, family, or social involvement or indirectly by the national economic burden, e.g., lost production, increased taxation, and increased insurance costs.

Approximately 14.5 million people in the U.S. have a form of AUD, including 9 million men and 5.5 million women. More than 400 thousand of these cases are adolescent youths, where we instead see higher cases in girls at 251,000 than men at 163,000 cases. In addition, around 10.5 percent of children, 7 million aged 17 years and younger, live with at least one parent suffering from AUD.

It is estimated that approximately 95,000 people die from alcohol-related causes in the U.S. annually, making alcohol the third highest cause of preventable death in the U.S., behind tobacco use and poor diet paired with physical inactivity. Approximately 5 million emergency room visits annually are associated with alcohol abuse, regardless if the instance is acute or chronic.

Beyond drinking itself, alcoholism also presents a significant challenge on the road, with 28 percent of driving fatalities involving alcohol-impaired drivers.

These problems make alcoholism a tremendous drain on the U.S. economy, totaling more than a quarter trillion dollars. The most significant element is the loss of workplace productivity at $179 billion, followed by the cost of healthcare at $28 billion, criminal justice at $25 billion, and finally, the cost of automotive collisions at $13 billion.

But of course, these financial implications are much less of a concern to us in our day-to-day lives than the personal human cost of alcohol abuse on our families and friends.

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Now consider both the short- and long-term risks of alcohol abuse, whether chronic abuse or binge drinking.

Short-Term Risks

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Accidental injuries, such as vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, burns
  • Physical violence, such as assault, homicide, suicide, sexual assault
  • Risky sexual behavior, such as unprotected sex, which may result in unintended pregnancy or the transmission of a sexually transmitted disease (STD)

Long-Term Risks

  • High blood pressure, which can lead to:
    • Heart disease
    • Stroke
    • Liver disease
    • Digestive problems
  • Certain cancers
    • Oral including mouth, throat, and esophagus
    • Liver
    • Breast
    • Colon or rectum
  • Weakening of the immune system and consequent
    • Lower resistance to infection and transmissible diseases
  • Learning and memory problems
    • Poor school or work performance
    • Memory loss and dementia in adults
  • Mental health deterioration
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Lack of concentration
  • Life difficulties
    • Social and family problems
    • Work-related problems, unemployment
  • Alcohol dependence

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How do I know if I have a drinking problem?

Drinking is a problem if it interferes with your life and relationships, either at home, socially, in your workplace, or at school. Consult your healthcare provider right away if you think you may have a problem.

What if someone you know has a drinking problem. What should you do?

Contact the National Drug and Treatment Referral Routing Service available at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). The service can provide you with printed materials on alcohol abuse treatment and the location of a substance abuse treatment center in your area.

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