Alcoholism: Symptoms and Causes of Alcohol Abuse

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has estimated that approximately 17 million American adults suffer from alcoholism or alcohol abuse/dependency. That's 7% of the population.

The amount of men who suffer from alcohol abuse is nearly double that of women – 11.2 million men and 5.2 million women.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report over 90,000 deaths per year are the result of alcohol, earning alcohol use number three on the list of preventable causes of death.

What Happens When You Drink?

After you take your first sip of alcohol, it takes about 10 minutes to start feeling the first effects of it – this is due to the increase in your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The higher the BAC, the stronger the effects of the alcohol on your system, and the more impaired you become.

What are the effects of alcohol in your system?
  • Slurred speech
  • Decreased inhibitions
  • Gross motor impairments
  • Concentration problems
  • Confusion
  • Temporary memory loss
  • Breathing problems
  • Coma
  • Death

Additionally, alcohol can impair your operation of a motor vehicle, increase violence and anger, lower your inhibitions to engage in risky behavior, and increase your contemplation of suicide and homicide.

Your BAC can be a good indicator of how you are impaired under the effects of alcohol in your system.

  • 03% to 0.10%: euphoria, enhanced mood, and anxiety reduction
  • 10% to 0.20%: sedation, decreased reaction times, balance and vision impairments
  • 20% to 0.30%: nausea, vomiting, ataxia, confusion
  • 25% to 0.40%: in and out of consciousness, severe motor impairments, bradycardia, bladder control issues
  • 25% to 0.80%: severe breathing problems, coma, and death

One reason that alcohol abuse is so prevalent in the United States is because as long as you are of the legal age, it’s legal to buy and consume alcohol. Over half of the United States engages in alcohol consumption and most are able to enjoy a few drinks and stop drinking.

However, a significant portion of those who drink alcohol cannot put the alcohol down. They have to keep drinking to the point of danger to their own health and to the well-being of others. These individuals are suffering from an alcohol use disorder.

Symptoms and Causes of Alcohol Abuse

If you or a loved one is suffering from alcoholism, how can you tell? Some of the most common signs of alcohol addiction are:


  • Alcohol tolerance (i.e., needing to drink more alcohol to feel the intended effects of it)
  • Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you haven’t consumed alcohol in awhile
  • Not being able to control the amount of drinks you consume
  • Not being able to stop drinking alcohol (even though you want to)
  • Always thinking about drinking – to the point that it disrupts your home life and work life
  • Engaging in binge drinking
  • Drinking alcohol throughout the day
  • Drinking alcohol with the intent to get drunk
  • Drinking alcohol every day
  • Drinking alcohol and driving

Why do some people abuse alcohol and others can stop drinking with no problem? Some people start drinking because of social or peer pressure. Some start drinking because of mental health issues. Some of the most common mental health reasons for alcoholism include anxiety and depression. Some people model the behaviors of what they witnessed growing up (e.g., having alcoholic parents).

Additionally, according to the NIAAA, there seems to be a genetic link among some people experiencing alcoholism. These individuals get a bigger “buzz” from drinking alcohol and don’t necessarily feel the ill effects of it (e.g., nausea, feeling sick). Essentially, they are “primed” for alcoholism.

At what point is “enough enough?” When should you seek help? Where can you get help? And what are some warning signs that you need help? Some people know they need help, they just can’t motivate themselves to seek treatment. They might think treatment is not a reality for them – that they’ll never get better.

Some people seek treatment or rehab facilities that specifically focus on alcoholism – either they were motivated to do so through a scary life episode (e.g., arrest or accident due to drinking) or they were motivated to do so through a friends or family interventions.


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