The statistics are alarming: More than 15 million Americans struggle with a diagnosable alcohol use disorder. Yet fewer than 8 percent of people who struggle with the disorder get treatment.
Of drinkers in general, more than 65 million surveyed reported at least one episode of binge drinking (defined as five or more drinks on a single occasion for men, four or more for women) in the past month. One in every six American adults reportedly binge drinks approximately four times a month. Most bingers are not (yet) considered alcohol-dependent, but that may be because binge drinking is most common among young adults ages 18 to 34. Every year, more than 4,300 deaths among those under the age of 21 are attributed to excessive drinking.
Even if excessive alcohol doesn’t kill you on the spot, and even if you’re never diagnosed with an alcohol-related disorder, routine binge drinking has a profound effect over time on almost every part of your body. Some of the more devastating, long-term physical and mental health effects include:
- Depression and anxiety
- Learning, memory, and social problems
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
- Cancers of the digestive tract, including the mouth, throat, esophagus, and colon, as well as increased risk of breast cancer in women
Excessive use of alcohol also interferes with reproductive health and sexual functioning, affecting testicular activity and hormone production in men, disrupting the menstrual cycle and increasing the risk of infertility in women, as well as contributing to miscarriage, stillbirth, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in pregnant women who drink alcohol and their babies.
What can you do? Choose to drink moderately, if at all (no more than one drink a day for women, two for men), and help others around you do the same. Serve less alcohol at parties, and don’t serve alcoholic beverages to anyone who shouldn’t be drinking, such as minors and anyone who has already had too much to drink. And if you know your drinking isn’t reserved for special occasions, or if you just drink too much, too often, or your drinking behavior is risky (or if excessive drinking affects someone you know), speak with your doctor who can help you get over any shame you may feel and determine if further help is necessary from a support group, psychological counseling, medication, or other programs and steps that can lead to reduced cravings for alcohol and, perhaps, ultimately abstinence.