1 in 12 Americans Have Alcohol Use Disorder

By Kelly Burch 04/25/19

Seven times more Americans deal with alcohol use disorder than opioid use disorder.

man with alcohol use disorder

The opioid crisis fills our newsfeeds day after day, but at the same time Americans are grappling with the addictive nature of another, totally legal substance: alcohol. 

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, 17.6 million Americans—1 in 12—have alcohol use disorder. Despite its prevalence, few people realize how widespread alcoholism is. In addition to people with alcohol use disorder, even more Americans report problematic drinking habits. 

“Varying degrees exist, from mild to severe, depending on the number of symptoms a person experiences. But a powerful craving for alcohol, despite its consequences, is common across that spectrum,” Linda Searing wrote for The Washington Post

This means that 7 times more Americans deal with alcohol use disorder than deal with opioid use disorder, according to Pew Charitable Trusts.

In addition, more people are dying from alcohol-related causes: 88,000 Americans perish each year from alcohol-related causes, compared with 72,000 who die from opioid overdoses (although opioid overdose rate is likely underreported, research has shown). That makes alcohol use the third-leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the United States. 

Like opioid addiction, alcoholism is also increasing. Last November, USA Today reported that between 2007 and 2017 the death rate from alcohol increased 24%. Among women, the death rate increased a staggering 85%. 

"The story is that no one has noticed this," said Max Griswold, who compiled data on the trend for the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. "It hasn't really been researched before.”

Psychologist Benjamin Miller said that because alcohol is legal and socially accepted, people aren’t as wary of its dangers. 

"Culturally, we’ve made it acceptable to drink but not to go out and shoot up heroin," Miller said. "A lot of people will read this and say 'What's the problem?’”

In addition to alcohol's health effects, abusing alcohol can also have secondary effects on loved ones living with or around people with alcohol use disorder.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence estimates that half of American adults have a close loved one with alcohol use disorder, while 10% of children live with at least one parent who is an alcoholic. 

“Parental alcohol use disorders put children at greater risk of experiencing abuse or neglect and developing mood disorders,” Pew Trusts writes. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.