All forms of substance abuse and addiction are clouded with stigma. For alcohol specifically, many people assume that compulsive drinking is a lesser condition. It is important not to lose focus from the true issue of the behavior. It does not matter what the psychoactive agent is, the craving, withdrawal, and tolerance is what deteriorates health, relationships, and entire lives.
Accessibility is associated with pervasive problems
In the United States, alcohol is a legally consumable substance if individuals are age 21 or older. However, alcohol regulation is not perfect. Some sellers may not check I.D., underaged college parties may have drinks available, and youth may even raid their parents’ liquor cabinets once and awhile. Because laws allow it, alcohol is easily accessible for a majority of Americans, including minors and others who should not have it.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) survey in 2013:
- For people of age 18 or older, 70.7 percent reported that they drank in the past year
- From the same demographic, 24.6 percent reported that they engaged in binge drinking activity during the previous month
- Approximately 17 million adults were officially diagnosed with alcohol use disorder (AUD)
- Unfortunately, the most worrying statistic was that only 7.8 percent, or 1.3 million, of adults with an AUD received treatment for it at a specialized facility.
Why does abuse remain hidden?
If alcohol abuse and addiction are so prevalent in modern society, why are so few seeking recovery? A large part is denial. A lot of individuals defend their drinking with excuses. Some may say it gives them confidence. Others may say it helps them work. Regardless of the reason, people who excessively consume the substance tend to highlight its benefits and ignore the drawbacks. This is a primary symptom of a growing addiction.
A related issue is that many disordered drinkers downplay the seriousness of alcohol use. They will often compare it with heroin or cocaine, citing that its consequences are much milder. On the contrary, NIAAA’s 2013 report also lists the deadly damage that alcoholism can inflict:
- Alcohol-related fatalities are the third most preventable cause of death in the United States, with almost 88,000 people dying from complications each year
- Deaths due to alcohol-impaired driving accounted for 10,076 cases or 30.8 percent of all driving fatalities
In addition to accidental deaths, long-term drinking problems can result in liver damage and failure. Without surgery and replacement, an alcoholic may be forced to continually seek hospital care due to the breakdown of their organ systems. If an addiction progresses to the point where he or she cannot afford or obtain alcohol anymore, a condition known as delirium tremens (DTs) may occur as a symptom of withdrawal. Although agitation, profuse sweating, and hallucinations are common features, DTs can shock the entire body system and be fatal in extreme cases.
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