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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).

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.
Table 1. Alcohol use in the past month among individuals aged 12 or older: 2013.38