Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States. Consumed in moderation, it can relax the human body. Consumed in excess, it can kill.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, excessive alcohol consumption causes approximately 88,000 deaths per year—that’s 2.5 million years of potential life lost.
The most severe form of alcohol abuse, alcoholism is a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using.
16 million people in the United States struggle with alcoholism—but fewer than 10% of them receive any treatment.
Alcoholism is associated with many physical, mental, and behavioral symptoms. Among them are:
- Drinking alone
- Drinking more, or for longer, than planned
- Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of alcohol use
- Needing to drink more to feel the effects of alcohol
- Being unable to control alcohol intake
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms—such as nausea, sweating, trouble sleeping, and shaking—when you don’t drink
A study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), National Institute of Health (NIH), and National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) identified the following five subtypes of alcoholics:
Young Adult Subtype – Accounting for 32% of alcoholics, this is the largest subtype. Young adult alcoholics tend to engage in binge drinking and rarely seek help for alcohol dependence.
Young Antisocial Subtype – Accounting for 21% of alcoholics, this subtype is largely comprised of males in their mid-twenties. Young antisocial alcoholics are more likely to smoke tobacco and marijuana, and more than half of them have an antisocial personality disorder.
Functional Subtype – Accounting for 19% of alcoholics, this subtype includes middle-aged, working adults who have higher incomes, more education, and stable relationships compared to other alcoholics.
Intermediate Familial Subtype – Accounting for 19% of alcoholics, this subtype includes people who typically start drinking by age 17 and become alcoholics in their early 30s. Nearly half of all intermediate familial alcoholics have close relatives who are also alcoholics.
Chronic Severe Subtype – Accounting for only 9% of alcoholics, this is the smallest subtype. Chronic severe alcoholics drink more frequently than any other group, have a high divorce rate, and are likely polydrug users. 66% of them have sought help for alcoholism.
Alcoholism doesn’t discriminate based on ethnicity, age, or gender—and while heredity can play a part in the development of alcohol dependence, researchers have never isolated an alcohol addiction gene. Though there isn’t one singular cause for alcoholism, there are a few contributing factors. These include:
Family history. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, having a parent who is an alcoholic makes you four times more likely to be one yourself. Similarly, growing up in a household where alcohol is prevalent increases the risk of alcoholism in your future.
Starting at a young age. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc., individuals who first use alcohol before the age of 15 are five times more likely to suffer from alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence than those who first use alcohol at or after the age of 21.
Suffering with mental illness. According to Helpguide, around 29% of all mentally ill individuals also engage in substance abuse. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has found that, among alcoholics, 37% have at least one serious mental health disorder.
If you’re struggling with alcoholism, a number of treatment options are available to you. These include:
Detoxing. This is a critical first step in treating alcoholism. By detoxing, you give your body the time it needs to get alcohol out of your system.
Seeing a counselor or therapist. Learn everyday skills and strategies to prevent destructive drinking behavior.
Using CBD Oil. Cannabidiol (CBD) can help alcohol users cut down on their drinking and protect them against alcohol’s major adverse health effects. In a recent study, CBD was found to “exert a neuroprotective effect against adverse alcohol consequences on the hippocampus.”
Joining a support group. Surround yourself with supportive individuals who can keep you accountable.
Finding the right treatment isn’t always a one-step process. If you’re struggling with alcoholism, talk to your doctor to explore which options are right for you.