Alcohol Abuse and Addiction

Alcohol is a legal substance in many parts of the world including United States. Despite its legal status, it is a highly addictive substance with millions of alcoholics around the globe. Alcohol is the most widely abused substance in United States with the maximum number of addicts. It is widely used by American population due to its desirable effects such as relief from anxiety and stress. Although, not everyone who drinks is an alcoholic, only a small population tends to drink alcohol in moderation. Majority of people tends to binge drink in an effort to get drunk. If such tendencies are not controlled, it is highly likely to become addicted to alcohol.

What is alcohol?

Alcohol is an intoxicating drink made by fermenting different edibles such as different grains and fruits. There are a number of different types of alcohol but consumable form is called ethyl alcohol or ethanol that is present in different drinks. Apart from drinking, alcohol is also used as fuel and to sterilize wounds.

It is a central nervous system depressant that means it slows down the brain and body activities. This is the reason behind calming effects produced by it. The effects produced by alcohol are termed as intoxication but they are also commonly referred to as ‘being drunk’, ‘being high’ or ‘buzzed’. Because of its desirable effects, people tend to consume alcohol in excessive amounts that may lead to alcoholism or alcohol use disorder. Just like any other addiction, it is a mental disease that forces the user to consume excessive alcohol. Despite a number of side effects, the user becomes unable to quit alcohol.

Alcohol is present in a number of beverages such as:

  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Vodka
  • Gin
  • Rum
  • Whisky
  • Tequila
  • Alcoholic energy drinks
  • Shot

Multiple slang terms are also used to refer alcoholic drinks such as:

  • Brew
  • Booze
  • Cold one
  • Moonshine
  • Hooch
  • Vino
  • Sauce
  • Liquid courage
  • Juice
  • Hard stuff
  • Shotski
  • Keg
  • Cocktail

Different types of alcoholic drinks:

Alcohol is present in a number of different drinks that differ with respect to their alcohol concentrations and the way they are produced.


Beer is an alcoholic drink made from barley, water, hops and yeast. Compared to other alcoholic drinks, beer contains the lowest amount of alcohol. The alcohol content by volume (ABV) ranges between 2 to 12% for beer. For most people, it takes around 3-6 beers to feel intoxicated.

It is very popular drink that is widely used in American culture. In fact, America is the biggest manufacturer of innovative beers. With craft beer revolution, a number of experiments have been done in breweries including increasing the amount of alcohol.

Even people who are social drinkers of beer or only drink craft beer can become alcoholic. The earliest noticeable signs include craving for more beer and an inability to stop drinking.


Wine is made by fermenting fruits, mostly grapes and sometimes berries and pomegranate. Most commonly, it is available as white or red wine in a number of different flavors.

Compared to beer, wine contains very high amount of alcohol. It can contain about 8-20 percent alcohol. 5 oz of wine contain as much alcohol as 12 oz of beer. Wine is widely consumed at lavish dinner parties and it is particularly more popular among women. Even though women are more likely to develop wine abuse disorder since they are the major consumers of wine, both genders are equally susceptible to its addiction. Drinking wine even at parties or dinners can lead to development of dependence.


The term liquor is used to refer to a number of hard drinks such as whisky, gin, vodka, rum and tequila. Compared to beer and wine, liquor contains very high amounts of alcohol and is often mixed with soda and juices and even water. The amount of alcohol in liquor usually ranges between 40-50%.

When liquor is not mixed with any other liquid, it is consumed as shots. Adding soda to liquor can produce a quick intoxication since carbonation speeds up the process of alcohol absorption in blood.

Alcohol abuse:

Alcohol use disorder is different from alcohol abuse because a person with alcohol use disorder is likely to be able to control the amount of alcohol he is consuming. In case of abuse, it becomes difficult to cut down the amount of alcohol being consumed even after a number of side effects.

According to National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in 2012, over 17 million Americans aged 18 and over suffered from alcohol use disorder. Out of it, 11.2 million were men while 5.7 million were women. Considering the high addictive potential of alcohol, the legal age for drinking is 21 years in United States.

Alcohol addiction is mental disease that can affect anyone regardless of their age, gender, race and ethnicity. However, some people are more likely to develop addictions than others. Some of the contributing factors for the development of addiction may include:

  • Family history of alcohol abuse
  • Genetic predisposition for addiction
  • Mental illness such as depression or anxiety
  • Having low self esteem
  • Having frequent exposure to alcohol since a young age
  • Regular binge drinking

Studies revealed that among all the races, white people are the most likely to binge drink and become addicted to alcohol.

Why is alcohol addictive?

Alcohol is a highly addictive substance with the maximum number of addicts in United States compared to any other drug. The likelihood of becoming addicted to it increases when it is regularly consumed in high amounts.

Alcohol is a depressant drug and when used, it stimulates the release of high amounts of dopamine and endorphins. These are the natural brain chemicals associated with the feelings of pleasure and reward. This is the reason why people feel happy and relaxed after the consumption of alcohol. Since alcohol slows down brain activities, the transmission of signals between the body and brain is slowed down that results into slurred speech, disorientation and depressed breathing.

As the effects of alcohol wear off, the body goes back to its normal function. The feelings of euphoria also fade away. If the user consumes alcohol frequently, the brain becomes used to function in the presence of high amounts of mentioned neurotransmitters. So when the supply of alcohol is cut off, the brain becomes unable to function normally without high amounts of these neurotransmitters produced under the influence of alcohol. As a result, a number of unpleasant symptoms appear, termed as withdrawal symptoms that often force the user to go back to alcohol abuse.

Alcohol interactions:

Alcohol is often combined with other drugs by the user to alter or improve the effects produced by it. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant so when it is combined with another depressant such as benzodiazepines, the brain and body activity may be lowered down to such a level that even death is resulted.

Likewise, when it is combined with a stimulant, it can mask the effect of stimulant causing the user to take more and more amount of both the drugs that may result into an overdose.

Some of the drugs that are intentionally or accidently combined with alcohol may include:

  • Benzodiazepines:Combining drugs like Xanax, Valium or Klonopin with alcohol can result into depressed respiration, dizziness, overdose and even death.
  • Antihistamines:Taking antihistamines such as Zyrtec, combined with alcohol, can increase the risk of an overdose.
  • Opiate pain relievers:Opiate pain relievers such as vicodin, when combined with alcohol, can lead to respiratory problems and even overdose.
  • Antibiotics:Antibiotics like azithromycin, combined with alcohol, can lead to vomiting and increased alcohol intoxication.
  • Hypertension medications:Combining blood pressure medications with alcohol can lead to arrhythmia and fainting.
  • Cholesterol medications:When combined with alcohol, severe liver damage is resulted.
Some facts and figures about alcohol abuse:

Alcohol use and abuse is so widespread in United States that government of United States established Nation Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 1970. NIAAA releases statistics on alcohol abuse and number of alcoholics every year.

  • In 2012, over 2 million people were treated for alcoholism in United States.
  • Nearly 2000 college students die every year due to alcohol related injuries.
  • According to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted in 2015, over 18 million American over the age of 18 suffered from alcohol use disorder.
  • About 84% of all Americans over the age of 18 have consumed alcohol at some point in their lives.
  • People who have tried alcohol before the age of 15 are 7 times more likely to become alcoholics than people who have consumed it at age 21 or older.
  • In 2013, 46% of all deaths due to liver diseases were caused by excessive alcohol consumption.
  • There is a high risk of developing mouth, pharynx, larynx, liver or breast cancer due to excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Over 40% of all emergency room visits due to drug abuse involve alcohol.

Although alcohol is a legal drug, its use is associated with a number of health hazards. If a loved one is suffering from alcohol use disorder or alcohol addiction, get them help as soon as possible.