15 Million Americans Are Battling Alcohol Use Disorder

By Beth Leipholtz 01/08/19

Over an eight-year period, alcohol-related emergency room visits increased 47%.

man battling alcohol use disorder

As a new year kicks off, some may be rethinking their relationship with alcohol. 

In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, greater than 15 million people in the US are living with alcohol use disorder.  

The most recent numbers come from a study that examined data from 2006 to 2014 and found that alcohol-related emergency room visits increased to 5 million, up 47%. Of those, the biggest increase was in women ages 45 to 64. 

One such woman is Teena Richardson of Seattle, who nearly lost her husband and two adult children due to her drinking habits. 

"I wasn't drinking wine anymore,” she told Fox 17. “It had escalated to hard alcohol. I wanted to get the buzz as fast as I could get it, and I wanted to hide it so that nobody knew."

Dr. Eric Shipley, medical director of Overlake Medical Center in Seattle, told Fox that despite these increasing numbers, people aren’t willing to cut out alcohol. 

"If I went to somebody and said, 'You could eliminate 15% of emergency room visits; would you do it?' And they'd be, like, 'Absolutely.' Well, that means cutting out alcohol. 'No, no, we're not going there," he said. 

According to Fox 17, 88,000 people die each year of alcohol-related causes. This makes it the third leading preventable cause of death, with smoking and obesity coming in ahead.  

"It's one of the most dangerous drugs there is," Dr. Harris Stratyner, a New York psychologist, told Fox 17. "It's a little slower to kill you. It might take 10 years before it causes cirrhosis, but it's gonna kill you."

For those who choose to seek treatment, there are a number of options for help. For Richardson, it took a few tries to find what worked. She tried outpatient therapy and 12-step programs before going to a 10-day aversion therapy program at Schick Shadel Hospital in Seattle. 

Erick Davis, the medical director at Schick Shadel, said the goal is to take away the craving for alcohol. 

"What we do is we pair the experience of nausea with the thought, smell, taste and sight of alcohol," he told Fox.

For Richardson, it worked, and she has been in recovery for seven years. 

"Now I'm present, and I'm mindful of where I came from,” she told Fox. “And the test of alcoholism gave me a testimony. I'm on the other side of it.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.