According to the U.S. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “about 70% of American adults always drink at low-risk* levels or do not drink at all. In fact, 35% of Americans do not consume alcohol.” On the other hand, “about 28% of American adults drink at levels that put them at risk of alcohol dependence.” Binge drinking, for example, (defined as consuming 5 or more drinks in a row for a male, or 4 in a row for women) is common among teenagers and young adults. This pattern of high risk drinking can lead to the same health and social problems associated with alcoholism and may lead to faster development of alcoholism.
In contrast, low risk drinking, as defined by the Mayo Clinic in its 2012 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, is described as drinking “only in moderation”, meaning up to one drink a day for women, or two drinks a day for men.
To help you take a closer look at your own drinking, consider the risk factors. Do you fall into a high risk category? Are you concerned enough about your own alcohol consumption that you would consider alcohol intervention services?
Does it really matter when you take your first drink? Studies show that anyone who begins drinking in adolescence is at higher risk for developing alcoholism. A survey of over 40,000 adults demonstrated that of those who began drinking before age 14, almost half had become alcohol dependent by the age of 21.
Statistically, most abusers of alcohol are men. But in the past 30 years, the incidence of alcoholism in women has continued to climb. Studies also show that women are more susceptible than men to long term consequences of alcoholism. These include a higher risk of alcoholic hepatitis, death due to cirrhosis and increased vulnerability to brain cell damage.
Individuals who experienced physical or sexual abuse as children show a higher risk for substance abuse later in life and benefit from specialized treatment.
Your own race or ethnicity may increase or decrease your risk for alcohol dependence. African Americans, Caucasians, and Hispanic-Americans show no difference in the occurrence of alcoholism. Native Americans, on the other hand, show an increased incidence, while Jewish and Asian-Americans have a lower risk. How much of these differences can be attributed to biological factors such as genetic susceptibility, differences in the way alcohol is metabolized, or cultural causes is unclear.
Severe depression or anxiety put people at higher risk for developing alcoholism. Depression, bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia are among the most common mental health problem associated with alcoholism. Alcohol is frequently viewed by those suffering from mental health problems as a way to self-medicate or as a coping mechanism. Treatment programs that offer alcohol intervention services are generally skilled at treating substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders.
ARE YOU AT RISK?
Before actually seeking alcohol intervention services, many people reluctantly look at their own drinking with one eye closed in hope that what they see isn’t really “alcoholism”. Understanding your risk factors may be a good way to begin to honestly assess your alcohol use.
health.nytimes.com Alcoholism In-Depth Report