Prevalence of Alcoholism in the United States

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It is not possible to determine the number of alcoholics in the United States because there is no official diagnosis of "alcoholism." Since the publication of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in May 2013, drinking problems have been diagnosed as alcohol use disorders, ranging in level from mild to moderate to severe.

Before that, the DSM-IV (published in 1994) broke alcohol-related disorders into two categories: alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. So, how many Americans have an alcohol use disorder?

Statistics about the prevalence of alcohol use, alcohol use disorders, underage drinking, alcohol-related conditions, and fatalities can be gleaned from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) as well as other sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Here's a look at some of the latest figures.

Alcohol Use Statistics

Among people 18 years or older, an estimated 86.3% reported they had consumed alcohol at some point during their lives; 70% said they had a drink within the past 12 months, and 55.3% said they drank alcohol within the past 30 days.

While some research has found that drinking in moderation seems to benefit the heart and cardiovascular system, heavy drinking and binge drinking comes with a host of short- and long-term health effects.

Types of Drinking Defined

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the types of drinking are defined as:

  • Moderate drinking: Up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men
  • Binge drinking: Five or more drinks on the same occasion on at least one day in the past 30 days
  • Heavy drinking: Five or more drinks on the same occasion on five or more days in the past 30 days

Prevalence of Binge Drinking and Heavy Drinking

Approximately 26.45% of all adults in the U.S. reported engaging in binge drinking in the past 30 days and 6.6% confirmed heavy drinking in the past month.

A 2015 study of adult drinkers in the U.S. found that binge drinking was most common among non-Hispanic whites with some college education and with an annual family income of $75,000 or more.

Men

The prevalence of heavy drinking, binge drinking, and alcohol use disorders are highest among men aged 18 to 24 and men who are unemployed.

Around 58% of adult men report drinking alcohol in the last 30 days. Men are also twice as likely as women to binge drink—and roughly 23% report binge drinking five times a month, according to the CDC. Men are also more likely than women to be heavy drinkers.

Women

According to the CDC, roughly 46% of adult women report drinking alcohol in the last 30 days and roughly 12% of adult women report binge drinking three times per month.

College Students

Among U.S. college students, 54.9% of full-time students ages 18 to 22 reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days, compared to 44.6% of others the same age. An estimated 36.9% of college students reported binge drinking in the past month and 9.6% disclosed heavy drinking. All of these percentages are significantly higher for the same age group among non-college students.

Underage Drinking

According to the CDC, the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 30% of high schoolers reported drinking some amount of alcohol and 14% engaged in binge drinking. Among those aged 12 to 20, the 2018 NSDUH reported that 19% drank in the previous 30 days with 12% binge drinking. 

Prevalence of Alcohol Use Disorders

The NSDUH data estimated that 5.8% of American adults over 18—about 14.4 million people—have an alcohol use disorder. This includes 9.2 million men and 5.3 million women, or 7.6% of all adult men and 4.1% of all adult women.

Of those with alcohol use disorder, only 7.9% of adults aged 18 and over received professional treatment for in the past year from a facility specializing in alcohol treatment and rehabilitation. Breaking it down further, only 8% of men and 7.7% of women who needed help for an alcohol problem actually sought help for that problem.

Among youth ages 12 to 17, an estimated 401,000 had alcohol use disorders, including 227,000 females and 173,000 males.

Among U.S. adolescents, 1.6% had already developed an alcohol use disorder. During the previous 12 months, only 5% of those with a drinking problem received treatment.

Alcohol use disorders were most common among American Indians or Alaskan Natives, those having less than a high school education, and those with an annual family income of less than $25,000.

Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder

According to the DSM-5, if the following symptoms are present within the past year they may indicate an alcohol use disorder:

  1. You often drink alcohol in larger amounts or over a longer period than you intend.
  2. You want to cut down or control your alcohol use but your efforts may be unsuccessful.
  3. You spend a lot of time getting alcohol, using it, and recovering from the effects of your drinking.
  4. You have alcohol cravings.
  5. Your use of alcohol results in failing to meet your obligations at work, school, or home.
  6. You continue to use alcohol despite it leading to recurrent problems socially or in your relationships.
  7. You give up or reduce your participation in important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of your use of alcohol.
  8. You use alcohol in situations in which it is physically hazardous (such as driving, operating machinery, performing surgery).
  9. You continue to use alcohol even knowing that you have a physical or psychological problem that is caused by or made worse by alcohol.
  10. You experience alcohol tolerance, either by needing more alcohol to get intoxicated or you feel diminished effects when drinking the same amount of alcohol.
  11. You experience withdrawal syndrome or you use alcohol or other substances to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

Health Risks of Excessive Alcohol Use

Each year, an estimated 88,000 people—62,000 men and 26,000 women—die from alcohol-related causes. This makes alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.

Heavy drinking and binge drinking can result in a number of short-term and long-term health risks, including:

  • Cancer, including increased risk of breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon cancers
  • Injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, burns, and alcohol poisoning
  • Learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor school performance
  • Mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression
  • Physical health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive issues
  • Pregnancy-related issues, such as miscarriage, stillbirth, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders
  • Risky sexual behavior, such as unprotected sex and sex with multiple partners
  • Social problems, such as lost productivity, family problems, relationship issues, and unemployment
  • Violence, including homicide, suicide, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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Article Sources
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