Alcohol Use & Addiction

In 2013, 52.2% of Americans age 12 and older had used alcohol at least once in the 30 days prior to being surveyed; 22.9% had binged (5+ drinks within 2 hours); and 6.3% drank heavily (5+ drinks on 5+ occasions). In the 12-17 age range, 11.6% had consumed at least one drink in the 30 days prior to being surveyed; 6.2% had binged; and 1.2% drank heavily.38

Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is the intoxicating ingredient found in beer, wine, and liquor. Alcohol is produced by the fermentation of yeast, sugars, and starches. It is a central nervous system depressant that is rapidly absorbed from the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream. A standard drink (12 ounces of beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces [a "shot"] of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor [gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey]) contains 0.6 ounces of pure ethanol.

Alcohol affects every organ in the body as well as damages a developing fetus. Intoxication can impair brain function and motor skills; heavy use can increase risk of certain cancers, stroke, and liver disease. Alcoholism or alcohol dependence is a diagnosable disease characterized by a strong craving for alcohol, and/or continued use despite harm or personal injury. Alcohol abuse, which can lead to alcoholism, is a pattern of drinking that results in harm to one's health, interpersonal relationships, or ability to work.25 The National Institutes of Health reports 15% of the people living in the United States are considered “problem drinkers.” Within this population, 5%-10% of the men and 3%-5% of the women could be labeled as alcoholics (Table 1).

Table 1. Alcohol use in the past month among individuals aged 12 or older: 2013.38
Age Heavy Use Binge Use Current Use
Percent Number of Adults Percent Number of Adults Percent Number of Adults
Aged 12 or Older 6.3% 16.5 million 22.9% 60.1 million 52.2% 136.9 million
Aged 12 to 17* 1.2% 293,000 6.2% 1.6 million 11.6% 2.9 million
Aged 18 or Older 6.8% 16.2 million 24.6% 58.5 million 56.4% 134.0 million
* The percentage and estimated number of adolescents aged 12 to 17 who were heavy alcohol users were 1.2% and 293,000 adolescents.
Source: SAMHSA, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 2013.