5 Vital Facts About Alcohol Abuse

5 Vital Facts About Alcohol Abuse

Alcoholism is more common than you think, and it's more dangerous, too.

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By Patrick Sullivan

Some people can drink moderately for most of their lives and never have a problem with alcohol abuse. But if you spend a lot of time drinking (or being hung over), experience strong cravings for alcohol or have tried to stop drinking but couldn’t, you might have an alcohol use disorder. Here are five must-know facts about alcohol abuse.

Alcohol abuse is undertreated

2 / 6 Alcohol abuse is undertreated

About 16 million U.S. adults have alcohol use disorder—a severe drinking problem—according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). A 2015 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry suggests only 20 percent of people who have had an alcohol use disorder have ever sought treatment.

The threshold for problem drinking is lower than you think

3 / 6 The threshold for problem drinking is lower than you think

Think you need to be stumbling drunk to have a drinking problem? Maybe not, says the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The administration defines heavy drinking as five or more drinks in a sitting on at least five out of the last 30 days. It also describes binge drinking as having five or more drinks in the same session.

The NIAAA says binge drinking entails getting your blood alcohol content up to 0.08 grams per deciliter (g/dL). That’s about four drinks for women or five for men within a two-hour time span.

Too much alcohol makes your RealAge older

4 / 6 Too much alcohol makes your RealAge older

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, excessive alcohol use was responsible for about 88,000 U.S. deaths annually between 2006 and 2010. Excessive drinking (in this case, six or more drinks per day) can add 2.7 years to your RealAge if you’re a man and 7.3 years if you’re a woman. Long-term risks of excessive drinking include heart disease, certain cancers, depression and damage to your brain.

Genetics may play a role

5 / 6 Genetics may play a role

Some people can have a drink or two and stop. For others, one drink quickly turns into six or seven. Here’s the truth: it’s partially genetic. Children of alcoholics are four times more likely to become alcoholics than people whose parents don’t have alcohol problems. Genetics aren't entirely to blame—more than half of all children of alcoholics do not become alcoholics themselves.

Excessive alcohol may make you less fertile

6 / 6 Excessive alcohol may make you less fertile

Too much alcohol may hurt your chances of having children, whether you’re a man or a woman. Drinking too much can degrade a man’s sperm, making it more difficult to get a partner pregnant. In a Danish study of more than 1,200 men, those who drank more than 40 drinks per week had a 33 percent lower sperm count than men who drank one to five drinks per week. The study suggests even five or more weekly cocktails had a negative effect on sperm counts.

In another Danish study, women who drank 14 or more servings of alcohol per week were nearly 20 percent less likely to get pregnant than women who drank none.