According to the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, "approximately twelve percent of state residents experience a substance use disorder (addiction or abuse) annually." Nationwide, it is estimated that approximately seven percent of adults suffer some form of alcohol abuse disorder. Alcohol abuse can affect people of all ages and all economic and social backgrounds.
The onset of an alcohol use disorder can be quite early, but it can also have late onset, sometimes appearing only after retirement or the death of a spouse. Although genetics account for approximately 50 percent of a person's risk factor for alcoholism, even people with no family history can end up abusing alcohol. That being said, according to the Mayo Clinic, certain factors do increase the risk of abusing alcohol, including:
• Drinking excessive quantities of alcohol on a regular basis, creating physical dependency
• Early onset of drinking
• Family history of alcoholism
• Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder
• Socio-cultural environment which glamorizes or encourages drinking
Misusing alcohol can take several forms. One is alcoholism, characterized by regular drinking of more than two units of alcohol a day, in steadily increasing quantity over time, with physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms if alcohol is not available. Another pattern of alcohol abuse involves binge drinking of more than seven units of alcohol in a single drinking session. Any alcohol use resulting in blackouts or memory impairment is problematic. In general, what defines a pattern of alcohol use as a disorder requiring treatment is that it puts at risk or harms the alcohol user's self, friends, or family; these risks can include behaviors such a fighting, unprotected sex, driving while intoxicated, domestic issues, and poor performance in school or at work.
Excessive alcohol consumption harms many different parts of the body. As well as causing damage to the liver, alcohol harms the pancreas and digestive tract, increases blood pressure, disrupts hormones and sexual functioning, weakens the immune systems, injures eye muscles, causes birth defects, and increases risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.
Treating alcohol abuse is a long-term process. It often starts with a professionally facilitated intervention, during which friends and family persuade the alcoholic to seek treatment. Dealing with the physical dependency by medically supervised withdrawal begins the long path through detoxification, rehabilitation, and recovery. Along this journey, the alcoholic may be prescribed medications to reduce physical craving for alcohol and undergo psychological counseling and behavior modification to reduce the possibility of relapse. Many alcoholics continue to participate in group therapy and support groups for decades to help them remain sober.