Alcohol awareness month: facts & stats to know
▪ by Rose Lockinger
Alcohol is of the most widely used mind-altering substances in the world. And it's also one of the most misused.
Alcohol is used by people of all backgrounds, education levels, most cultures and people of all ages. It is used to celebrate, to mourn, to mark milestones and to console. It is woven into the fabric of our society and many others around the world. For many people it’s hard to imagine celebrating a wedding or anniversary or job promotion without it. While many people are able to drink socially and moderately, a great many people struggle with alcohol abuse. Roughly 10% of the population has a problem with alcoholism and it may be higher in specific areas such as Eastern Europe which has rates up to 16%.
Facts about alcohol use, misuse, and addiction
What constitutes alcohol misuse, and how can you tell the difference between normal, responsible drinking and misuse? How do you know when social drinking has become a problem? Is alcohol as serious as drugs like heroin or cocaine? What treatment options are available to alcohol use disorders in the USA and Canada.
The following statistics help to demonstrate the powerful impact that misuse of alcohol has on our society
- 2014 statistics state that 24.7 people age 18 and over engaged in binge drinking in the past month. Binge drinking is considered consuming 5 or more alcoholic beverages in a single drinking session, generally within 2 hours.
- 696,000 students between the age of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
- Fetal Alcohol Spectrum disorder is estimated to affect 20 to 50 out of every 1,000 newborns.
- Globally, 5.6% of all deaths are a result of alcohol consumption.
- In Canada, approximately 76% of the total population reported consuming alcohol in the past year, with 21% of the population exceeding the low-risk guidelines for alcohol consumption. It’s reported that approximately 9% of the population binge drinks.
- Canadians reportedly drink more than 50% above the global average amount of alcohol.
Aside from obvious health risks such as heart and liver disease, and accidents, injuries and violence connected to alcohol abuse, there are other consequences to consider. Alcohol abuse impacts finances, employment and relationships. Alcohol is a problem when it interferes with daily functions, such as being able to show up for work and caring for your family.
Alcohol impacts people differently, and poses unique risks to specific populations. For example, women and men respond to alcohol consumption differently, have different risk factors as a result of alcohol misuse, drink for different reasons and relapse for different reasons. Another example of a special population would be those struggling with alcohol and a mental health disorder. Let’s look at some of the facts and stats surrounding specific groups and their unique challenges.
Women And Alcohol
Not too long ago, there was a wide gap in the amount of alcohol consumed by women versus men. Men consumed far more alcohol than women, and alcoholism was generally seen as a men’s problem. While women have likely always had issues with alcohol misuse, the numbers were much lower. Today, that gap is much smaller, and women are just as likely to struggle with alcohol abuse as men, and in some ways, more.
- On a physiological level, alcohol simply affects women differently. Aside from differences in tolerance, alcohol affects the brain of a woman differently than the brain of a man. As far as addiction, research shows that women become dependent on alcohol more rapidly than men, despite the fact that they may drink less alcohol, and may have been drinking for a shorter period of time.
- Hormonal changes associated with menstruation, pregnancy and menopause also play a role in the differences between how alcohol affects men and women.
- Women who drink are more likely to also have a co-occurring disorder, such as depression or anxiety, and are more likely to abuse alcohol as a response to trauma, such as assault or abuse.
- On a societal level, women who abuse alcohol are often viewed with greater judgment and disdain than men, particularly women who have children.
- Women are more likely to relapse, less likely to receive treatment, and more likely to suffer serious health problems as a result of their drinking.
Alcohol Use Disorder And Mental Health
There is a strong connection between alcohol misuse and mental health. People who struggle with mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are 48% more likely to misuse alcohol than someone without a mental disorder.
Additionally, alcohol misuse can lead to mental health issues such as depression. It can also cause deficits in cognitive function and impair memory.
Getting help for alcohol dependency and mental health issues isn’t always easy. What research shows is that treatment for both issues should be combined, but that doesn’t always happen. Alcohol treatment centers don’t always offer services to people unless they are mentally stable, and mental health facilities will often turn away a person with alcohol use disorder unless they are sober. This creates a gap, and is one reason we see so many homeless people on the streets struggling with mental illness and alcoholism. They can’t get adequate help for both their problems.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment Options
There are three common approaches to treating alcohol use disorder. Although each one may be used on its own, a combination of the three may provide the best results.
An alcohol rehab may consist of inpatient rehab or outpatient rehab, or a combination of the two. Inpatient rehabs provide round the clock care and support, offer individual and group counseling and may also offer other treatments and therapies to help the recovery process. Outpatient rehab offers most of the same services, but you don’t live on the premises. It’s often advised to attend an inpatient rehab, and then follow up with an intensive outpatient program of aftercare.
Mutual Self-Help Support Groups
While they aren’t considered treatment, mutual self-help support groups are often used in conjunction with rehab and this is where many people are introduced to groups like Alcoholic Anonymous, SMART Recovery, LifeRing Secular Recovery and Women For Sobriety for the first time. These programs advocate abstinence and have been helping those who struggle with problematic alcohol misuse to turn their lives around for decades.
Medication is probably the least common of the three main types of help available for alcohol dependancy, but new developments in medication may change that in the future. Two medications that may be used to help a person stop drinking are Antabuse and Naltrexone. These two medications help people to quit drinking and maintain abstinence in very different ways. Antabuse works using aversion. When a person taking Antabuse consumes even a small amount of alcohol, it produces a strong, negative physical reaction that includes pain, dizziness, nausea and other symptoms. The idea here is that the effects of alcohol are so bad it will reduce the desire to drink. This is a type of aversion therapy, and is intended to be used in conjunction with CBT Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and support.
Another medication for alcohol abuse is Naltrexone. Naltrexone is a synthetic opiate medication similar to morphine. Naltrexone does not produce any feelings of euphoria, and most people notice no effects from taking the drug. It is often prescribed to help treat opiate addiction, however it also shows promise in the treatment of alcohol dependency. When a person takes Naltrexone, it helps to reduce cravings for alcohol, and will also reduce the effects of alcohol.
Neither medication cures alcohol dependency disorder. If medication is used, it should be combined with other methods of treatment. Without adequate support, long-term sobriety isn’t likely to be achieved. Success rates of treatment aren’t very encouraging, and lack of ongoing support is believed to be one reason why.
Determining success rates for treatment, mutual self help groups and even medication is difficult. What is the one thing that works? And how do you define success?
Treatment relapse rates are high, at least 40%, and some studies put it at closer to 60%. Success is determined by looking at the number of people who are still sober at one year post-treatment. Success rates of twelve step programs are even harder to gauge. These programs are anonymous, and groups keep no records of participation.
Studies also show that longer periods of treatment produces better success rates. Stats on medication are usually measured against placebos, and measured at 90 days. Stats report improved rates of abstinence with the aid of medication, but it’s still not clear whether medication supports long-term recovery.
It truly seems that recovery from alcohol use disorder depends on individual factors. In order to address a person’s alcohol use it helps to take into consideration more than just the person’s drinking problem. Do they have a mental illness? Have they experienced trauma? Are they in acceptance of their illness, and are they willing to get help? Do they have adequate support and resources? Do they have a solid social support system? Are their basic needs for safety, housing and food being met? These all factor in. And long-term sobriety doesn’t seem to be an overnight process. People often relapse several times before achieving “success.” If you look at other chronic health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and asthma, you’ll find similar stats.