Alcohol consumption is extremely common in the United States and around the globe. Its intoxicating nature is sought out by people of all ages for experimentation, entertainment, and all too often, for comfort. Alcohol is associated with addiction disorders and a myriad of health issues and accidents that lead to thousands of deaths every year. As a result, scientists and researchers have been studying alcohol and the people who use it and gathering data for many years.
Basic alcohol use is incredibly common across many different cultures, races, ages, and identities. In 2013, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 86.8 percent of all adults (age 18 and older) said they had consumed alcohol at some point in their lifetime, with 70.7 percent saying they had drank in the past year, and 56.4 percent in the past month. The 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 35.1 percent of 15-year-old individuals reported having at least one drink in their lifetime, and 8.7 million people age 12-20 reported having one drink or more in the past month.
Alcohol use is more prevalent among college students compared to people of college age who are not enrolled. Among fulltime college students age 18-22, 59.4 percent reported drinking in the past month in a 2013 survey compared to 50.6 percent of their peers who do not attend college.
Men are consistently found to drink more than women, and more women than men have been abstinent from alcohol for their entire lives than men. White people are the most likely to have had a drink in the past month, and American Indians and Alaska Natives are the least likely.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation found that heavy drinking rose 17.2 percent from 2005 to 2012. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 18 million Americans are considered to have alcohol use disorder, or AUD. Among them, only 1.3 million sought professional help for their problem in 2013. Nearly 3 percent of youth age 12-17 had AUD in that same year, with around half seeking treatment.
Binge drinking, defined as consuming five or more drinks in two hours if you’re male and four or more drinks in two hours if you’re female, is common, with 24.6 percent of people 18 or older engaging in the behavior in the past month. Among those aged 12-20, the prevalence of binge drinking was about 14.2 percent. Underage alcohol abuse is especially troubling, as 40 percent of people who had their first drink at age 14 will develop AUD.
This abuse causes a huge economic burden on the US as well as the global economy. It’s estimated that the misuse of alcohol cost the United States a total of $223.5 billion in 2006 alone. Almost three-quarters of that amount was due to binge drinking.
Alcohol and Health
Heavy alcohol use has a significant impact on human health, whether it’s in the brain and liver of the person drinking or the result of an alcohol-fueled accident. In the US every year, about 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes, with most of them being men. It’s the third most preventable cause of death in the country, whether from illness or accidents. Nearly a third of all driving fatalities involve a drunk driver. Twenty-eight people die every day from vehicle accidents involving drunk drivers, and around two-thirds of all people in the US will be involved in an alcohol-related traffic accident at some point in their lives.
Alcohol was involved in 46.4 percent of all deaths from liver disease in 2013, and long-term alcohol abuse is the leading cause of late-stage liver disease in the United States. However, moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a decreased risk of heart disease, ischemic stroke, and diabetes.
Globally, it’s estimated that there are 2.5 million alcohol-related deaths every year, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. That amounts to 4 percent of all deaths annually. For young people, aged 15-29, that number rises to 9 percent. Alcohol is also considered to be, worldwide, the third largest risk factor for disease burden and the fifth leading risk factor for premature death and disability.
There’s also a connection between alcohol use and mental illness. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, people with mental illnesses (other than AUD) account for 38 percent of all alcohol consumption. This is thought to be because they are trying to self-medicate when they don’t feel they have access to any better treatment options.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 2,200 deaths from alcohol poisoning every year – amounting to about six deaths every day – in the US. American Indians and Alaskan Natives are most vulnerable to death from alcohol overdose, with 46.5 deaths from alcohol poisoning per million residents of Alaska. Three out of four of these deaths happen to adults aged 35-64, with the strong majority being men.
Alcohol and criminal activity seem to go hand in hand, as is the case with drunk driving. Driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while intoxicated (DWI) are the most common alcohol-related crimes in the US. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 10.3 million people reported driving while under the influence of alcohol at least once in the year 2012. Men are more than twice as likely to drive drunk as women, and the age group that drives drunk the most is young adults aged 21-25. Drunk driving is most likely to occur on weekends and at night.
Each year, about 1.5 million people are arrested for DUI. In 2008, there were 2 million individuals who had been arrested for DUI three times and 400,000 who had been caught at least five times. The average person who habitually drives drunk does so 80 times before their first arrest. All of this costs the US $199 billion every single year.
Alcohol also has a strong role in other forms of crime. According to the National Partnership on Alcohol Misuse and Crime, of all the US prisoners who were convicted of a violent crime, 40 percent performed said crime under the influence of alcohol. That percentage goes up in relation to the violence of the crime. Twenty-five percent of all prisoners who were given a questionnaire to determine if they had alcohol use disorder tested positive.
Statistics for individual crimes show that alcohol is often involved. The following illustrates the percentages of crimes in which the offender was under the influence of alcohol:
- 37 percent of rapes and sexual assaults
- 15 percent of all robberies
- 27 percent of aggravated assaults
- 25 percent of simple assaults
All of this makes sense due to the fact that alcohol lowers inhibitions, impairs impulse control, and can cause mood swings.
Statistics alone never tell the whole story, but it’s no coincidence that most of the statistics related to alcohol are negative. Alcohol is a dangerous substance that causes a lot of people to do things they otherwise would not have done. Even still, many unhappy people turn to it to relieve stress and find comfort. When too much alcohol is used, addiction is common, as are the over 200 health issues that it can contribute to. While it’s extremely unlikely that people will ever stop using alcohol, education, support, and stability can help people to maintain a relatively healthy, moderate relationship with the substance and minimize their risk of illness, injury, or death.