5 Vital Facts About Alcohol Abuse

5 Vital Facts About Alcohol Abuse

Alcoholism can take a devastating toll on your health. Learn the signs and dangers.

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By Patrick Sullivan

Some people can drink moderately for most of their lives and never have a problem. But if you spend a lot of time drinking (or being hung over), experience strong cravings for alcohol, tried to stop drinking but couldn’t or did something risky, dangerous or foolish while drunk, 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

Around 16 million US adults have alcohol use disorder—a drinking problem that becomes severe—according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). A 2015 study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that only about 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 calls binge drinking five or more drinks in the same session. The NIAAA says binge drinking is 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 (CDC), excessive alcohol use was responsible for about 88,000 deaths per year between 2006 and 2010 in the US. 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, it seems like they can never stop one drink from turning 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. However, it’s not entirely based on genetics—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. For men, drinking too much can degrade their 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 33 percent lower sperm count than men who drank just one to five drinks per week—but even five drinks or more per week had an effect. 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.