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US Alcohol Abuse Statistics

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

March 8, 2019

Alcohol abuse is a serious problem in the U.S. that leaves many people struggling with an addiction that is difficult to overcome. While alcohol addiction can affect anyone in many different ways, these statistics help to illustrate the problem that many individuals are facing today.

What Is Alcohol Abuse?

An alcohol use disorder (AUD) embodies a spectrum of harmful drinking patterns which range from abuse to addiction. These include:

Binge drinking: As explained by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), binge drinking occurs when, in a period of two hours, an individual’s blood alcohol concentration reaches 0.08 g/dL. Generally this equals four drinks for women and five drinks for men within this period of time.

Heavy drinking: Heavy drinking is when binge drinking occurs five or more days per month. The CDC elaborates, asserting that for women this equates to eight or more drinks per week and for men, fifteen or more.

Alcohol addiction: This is a harmful pattern of alcohol abuse which continues despite an individual’s awareness of the damage to their life. Among other criteria, it’s defined by compulsive drinking, with an inability to stop or decrease alcohol consumption.

These behaviors are dangerous and increase a person’s risk for numerous adverse physical, mental, and emotional health effects.

How Does Alcohol Abuse Affect The Adult Population?

Certain groups appear to drink more frequently than others, according to a 2015 Gallup poll which surveyed adults 18 and older. Here’s a comparison of what the poll found, listed with the percentage of individuals who drank:

  • College graduates (80 percent) vs. high school education or less (52 percent)
  • Higher income ($75,000 or more a year) (78 percent) vs. lower income ($30,000 or less) (45 percent)
  • Non-hispanic whites (69 percent) vs. nonwhites (52 percents)
  • Weekly churchgoers (47 percent) vs. sporadic attendance or not at all (69 percent)
  • Men (69 percent) vs. women (59 percent)

Individuals aged 30 to 49 drank more than any other age bracket. While these findings do not represent rates of alcohol abuse, higher rates of drinking overall can lead to increased rates of alcohol abuse.

The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) outlined that within the span of one month, 26.9 percent of respondents aged 18 and over engaged in binge drinking, while seven percent drank heavily. It also found that 15.1 million adults meet the criteria for an AUD. Sadly, of this number, only 8.3 percent or 1.3 million adults sought help from a specialized treatment facility.

What Is The Scope Of Alcohol Abuse During College?

Nearly 20 percent of college students have an AUD. College students ages 18 through 22 abuse alcohol more commonly than their peers of the same age. As documented by the NSDUH:

  • 58 percent of full-time college students consumed alcohol as opposed to 48.2 percent of their peers.
  • 37.9 percent of all college students binge drank over the previous month, as opposed to 32.6 percent of their peers.
  • 12.5 percent of all college students drank heavily at some point over the past month, as opposed to 8.5 percent of their peers.

Many college students view drinking as a positive and meaningful pastime. This ill-informed perspective can be dangerous and even deadly. Students ages 18 through 24 were:

  • Involved in 1,825 alcohol-related unintentional injury fatalities (this included traffic fatalities).
  • Assaulted 696,000 times by a fellow student who had consumed alcohol.
  • Sexually assaulted or date raped 97,000 times when alcohol was a factor.

As summarized by NIAAA “1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing class, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.”

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How Does Underage Drinking Impact The US?

In America, the legal drinking age is 21. Within this age bracket alcohol abuse is rampant. According to NIAAA, “People ages 12 through 20 drink 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States.” They continue to report that by age:

  • 15, a third of individuals have consumed, at minimum, one drink.
  • 18, roughly two-thirds have consumed, at minimum, one drink.

While youth do drink less frequently, they consume more per drinking session. The NIAAA claims that 90 percent of alcohol young people drink is abused by binge drinking. They also tell us that the number of youth ages 12 through 20 who binge drank:

  • Once within the past month was 5.1 million.
  • Five days or more within the past month was 1.3 million.

Despite the prevalence of underage drinking, it’s not a harmless rite of passage. It is linked to poor academic performance, risky sexual behaviors, higher rates of suicide and homicide, impaired brain development, and more. This group also faced 189,000 visits to the emergency room and 4,300 deaths in 2010, as referenced from the CDC.

It’s estimated that 2.5 percent of youth ages 12 through 17 who start drinking develop an AUD within this period, totaling 623,000 individuals, as explained by the NSDUH. Out of this total, only 37,000 adolescents actually received treatment. The risk does not stop here. The CDC warns that youth who begin drinking before age 15 face a six times greater risk of developing an AUD later in life.

How Are Young Children Affected?

As outlined by NIAAA, “more than 10 percent of U.S. children live with a parent with alcohol problems.” Parental alcohol abuse increases rates of:

  • Child abuse, neglect, and maltreatment
  • Children remaining or returning to foster care.
  • Childhood exposure to violence.
  • The child developing an AUD later in life.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders may result when a woman drinks during her pregnancy. The CDC reports that one in 20 school-age children suffer from one of these disorders.

What Is The Impact Of Alcohol Abuse On Driving?

Getting behind the wheel after drinking is a recipe for disaster. At 10,265 lives lost, nearly a third of all traffic fatalities within America involved alcohol. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration presents some shocking statistics: every 53 minutes someone dies in an alcohol-related vehicle crash, equaling 28 people each day.

Underage drinkers are hit particularly hard by this risk. Eight percent of youth report driving after drinking, and 20 percent say they’ve ridden in a vehicle drove by someone who has been drinking, as detailed by the CDC.

What Are The Rates of Alcohol-Related Illness And Death?

The sobering truth is that alcohol-related fatalities are the “fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States,” as cautioned by NIAAA. Roughly 88,000 individuals lose their lives this way each year. Alcohol takes a massive toll on your body, by polluting numerous organ systems and decreasing your immune system. There were 19,3888 alcoholic liver disease deaths in 2014. It is also estimated that 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths are linked to alcohol.

Protect Yourself And Those Around You

As we’ve made clear, alcohol abuse doesn’t just impact the drinker. If you’re suffering from an AUD, protect yourself and your loved ones and get help today. Severe cases of alcohol addiction are best supported by inpatient treatment and typically require a medically supervised detox. can help you to figure out which program is best for your needs. Contact us today.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Fact Sheets: Underage Drinking

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - 2015 Motor Vehicle Crashes: Overview

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcohol Facts and Statistics

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Drinking Levels Defined

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