Alcohol abuse is prevalent in the U.S. – one in four Americans had at least one binge-drinking session in 2016 (four drinks for women, and five for men). According to the most recent study from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), at least 30,772 deaths (excluding accidents and homicides) in the U.S. were directly attributable to alcohol in the same year. The NCHS also counted nearly 20,000 alcohol-related liver disease deaths in 2014.
Those with an addiction to alcohol are clinically diagnosed with an “alcohol use disorder” (AUD). AUD is a chronic brain disease characterized by a lack of control over alcohol use despite negative social, occupational, and health consequences.
Some of the dangers of heavy drinking include liver, heart, and brain damage, lifelong harm to an unborn child, and depression and violent behaviors. Reduced productivity, far-above-average health care expenses, and other economic costs result in hundreds of billions of dollars lost annually in the U.S. from alcohol abuse.
Read on for a comprehensive look at statistics on alcohol use, the science of alcohol addiction, and the effects and dangers of alcohol usage.
The Definition of Moderate Alcohol Use:
The moderate use of alcohol is not generally considered dangerous and may have some health benefits. “Moderate Drinking” is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as no more than one drink per day for women, and no more than two drinks per day for men. A “drink” is defined by the USDA as:
12 fluid ounces of regular beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine , 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits .
Some people should avoid alcohol altogether:
Those who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant
Those who have been diagnosed with alcoholism or alcohol abuse .
Those who have a family history of alcoholism .
Those who have liver or pancreatic disease .
Those who have a weak heart or have experienced heart failure .
Those who take prescription or over-the-counter medications that can interact with alcohol .
Those who have had a hemorrhagic stroke (when a blood vessel in your brain leaks or ruptures) .
Key Facts About Alcohol Abuse
While moderate use of alcohol can be beneficial for some, alcohol abuse:
Leads to Medical Problems: Chronic alcohol abuse over a period of several years can result in a number of medical problems, especially liver cirrhosis. In 2015, there were over 36,000 deaths from liver disease related to chronic alcohol abuse.
Results in Traffic Fatalities: Impaired drivers were involved in 31% of all traffic fatalities in 2014. It is a “Gateway Drug” for Teens: A 2016 study concludes that alcohol use among teens leads them to the consumption of other illegal and potentially dangerous drugs.
Costs the U.S. $249 Billion: According to a 2016 study published by the CDC, excessive alcohol use in the U.S. in 2010 had a total economic impact of $249 billion – that equates to a cost of $807 for every person in the country.
The terms “binge drinking,” “heavy alcohol use,” and “AUD” will be used below. The NIAAA defines binge drinking as about four drinks for women at a time, and five drinks for men. SAMHSA defines heavy alcohol use as binge drinking five or more times in the past month. AUD refers to an Alcohol Use Disorder, commonly known as alcoholism.
See the section below titled “Defining Alcohol Use Disorder” for more information. Click to learn about Alcohol Addiction.