Societal and Individual Effects of Alcoholism

April 6, 2022

In the year 2020, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recorded that nearly 19.3 million Americans, ages 18 or older, reported to have a substance disorder. 

Alcohol is the most prevalent form of substance disorder in the U.S., but the misuse of tobacco, prescription drugs, and illegal drugs can be just as detrimental. April is known as Alcohol Awareness Month, a month dedicated to acknowledging the harm of alcohol misuse on the physical and mental health of individuals and communities. 

Alcoholism, also referred to as alcohol use disorder, is defined as a high alcohol intake that puts one’s health and safety at risk.

Binge drinking, the consumption of at least four drinks (females) or five drinks (males) in two hours, is a pattern of drinking that is harmful to one’s health and wellness. Alcohol intoxication— high levels of alcohol in the bloodstream— may trigger severe behavioral and mental changes, including memory loss or slurring of speech. 

Excessive alcohol intake over time leads to greater risk of liver disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and cancer. Recognizing the symptoms of alcohol use disorders may save a life.

Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder

  • Inability to limit alcohol intake
  • Strong cravings to ingest alcohol
  • Failure to fulfill responsibilities at work, home, or school
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms (sweating or nausea) when not drinking
  • Drinking to avoid dealing with problems
  • Development of an alcohol tolerance, leading to a higher alcohol intake

The negative effects of alcoholism not only affect individuals, but also communities. In areas with large alcohol consumption rates, the risk of injury, violence, sexual assault, suicide, and opioid overdose increase. A recent study conducted by the CDC found that 40% of those involved in vehicle accidents had alcohol present in their bloodstream. 

Unprotected sex is more likely to occur under the influence of alcohol, leading to a higher rate of sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies. The CDC states that fetal development after alcohol use may cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, or infant death syndrome. 

Such consequences may also occur because of underage drinking. Young people, ages 12-20, consume four percent of America’s alcohol. Alcohol use during the teenage years increases the likelihood of an alcohol disorder in one’s 20s-30s.

Society is threatened by excessive alcohol use. Innocent bystanders are often the victims of violence caused by alcoholism. Many individuals who have alcohol use disorder often are in denial or do not even recognize that they may need help. 

While there is no single treatment plan that works best for everyone, professional behavioral health counseling in combination with medication assisted treatment, prescribed by either a primary care physician or psychiatrist, has proven to be the most effective treatment for alcoholism. 

If you know someone struggling to find freedom from the mental and physical strain of alcoholism, please encourage that person to contact Prairie View at (800) 992-6292 to begin a conversation with an addiction professional about how to treat alcohol use disorder.