Alcohol Abuse – What is It? Facts & Practical Help.

What are drinking problems? How serious is alcohol abuse among young people? What is the trend in drunk driving? What help is available for alcoholism?

        1. What is Alcohol Abuse?
        2. In American Society
        3. Youthful Drinking
        4. Drunk Driving Fatalities
        5. Health Problems
        6. Help is Available
        7. Resources

I. What Is Alcohol Abuse?

To some college students, heavy drinking that leads to vomiting is not alcohol abuse. It’s simply having a good time and being “one of the gang.”

And to many whose religion requires abstinence, simply tasting alcohol is not only alcohol abuse but a sin.

To many activists, a married adult couple quietly enjoying a drink with their dinner is guilty of abusing alcohol. That is, if they happen to be twenty years of age.

To the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NIAAA) it’s a crash that’s alcohol related. For example, if a driver who’s had a drink is sitting at a red light and rear-ended by a teetotaler. It considers such a crash to be caused by alcohol abuse. Or if an officer sees a beer can on the ground near a crash, it’s alcohol related.

II. In American Society

Our historical background and multi-cultural population have created wide and strong disagreements over what’s alcohol abuse.

    • The Colonial tradition taught us that alcohol is the “good gift of God.” It was to be used and enjoyed by all, including small children.
    • Our temperance and Prohibition past taught us that alcohol is “demon rum.” It’s the cause of almost all poverty, crime, violence, and other problems. Many people were convinced that alcohol was the cause of crime. So, on the eve of Prohibition, some towns went so far as to sell their jails.1 Temperance promoted both fear and hostility toward alcohol drinks. Much of that continues to this day. And Salvation Army General Evangeline Booth summarized this belief in a poem.2

growth of temperance

Drink has drained more blood,
Hung more crepe,
Sold more houses,
Plunged more people into bankruptcy,
Armed more villains,
Slain more children,
Snapped more wedding rings.
Defiled more innocence,
Blinded more eyes,
Twisted more limbs,
Dethroned more reason,
Wrecked more manhood,
Dishonored more womanhood,
Broken more hearts,
Blasted more lives,
Driven more to suicide, and
Dug more graves than any other poisoned scourge that ever swept its
waves across the world.

    • Repeal of National Prohibition left us with a society in which the majority of people enjoy alcohol beverage in moderation. But a large minority (today about 1/3) abstains. And many American abstainers favor imposing prohibition again on the entire country. The prohibition impulse has never died and has re-emerged in a different form today.
    • Alcohol policy actually results not from science, logic, or evidence. Instead, it results from a continuing struggle between those who wish to drink and those who don’t want them to. Throughout our national life, movements have emerged to promote abstinence by persuasion. But failing to succeed, they have then resorted to coercion. The current neo-prohibition movement attempts to reduce consumption in general.

III. Youthful Drinking

A barrage of newspaper articles and TV shows claim that drinking among young people is a growing epidemic. But the fact is quite the contrary.

Drinking among young people is actually on the decline. And it’s been so for over 40 years. For example, look at the statistics on drinking among high school students.

The proportion of high school seniors who have ever consumed alcohol is down (fig 1).3

alcohol abuse
Figure 1

The proportion of high school seniors who have consumed alcohol within previous year is down (fig 2).4

Figure 2

And the proportion of high school seniors who have consumed alcohol within previous 30 days is down (fig 3).5

alcohol abuse
Figure 3

The proportion of high school seniors who have recently consumed alcohol daily is down (fig 4).6

alcohol abuse
Figure 4

The proportion of high school seniors who have consumed 5 or more drinks on an occasion within previous two weeks is down (fig 5).7

alcohol abuse
Figure 5

Drinking among young people continues to drop.8

College student drinking attracts much attention in the press. But the proportion of college freshmen who drink continues to decrease.9

IV. Drunk Driving Deaths

While we must do even more to reduce drunk driving, we have already accomplished a great deal. Alcohol related traffic deaths have dropped steadily.

    • The U.S. has a low traffic death rate (drunk, as well as sober) and is a very safe nation in which to drive. And it’s been getting safer for decades.110
    • The rate of alcohol-impaired driving deaths per 100,000 has fallen two-thirds since 1982. That is when that statistic was first collected.11 Alcohol-related traffic deaths have dropped from over half of all traffic deaths in 1982 down to 29% in recent years.12
    • Alcohol-related traffic deaths per vehicle miles driven has also dropped greatly.13
    • The proportion of alcohol related crash deaths has fallen 35% since 1982. Yet the proportion of traffic deaths NOT linked with alcohol have jumped 53% during the same time. We’re winning the battle against alcohol related traffic deaths. But we’re losing the fight against traffic deaths that are not alcohol related.14

The declining proportion of accidents involving drinking is good news. But we can do even more to reduce drunk driving deaths. Through our individual actions we can do much right now to protect ourselves and others.

V. Health Problems: Alcohol Abuse

Moderate drinking is linked with better health and longer life than is abstinence or alcohol abuse. Abuse can lead to serious health problems and even death.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is an permanent condition linked with drinking by pregnant women. So it’s completely preventable. Each and every case of FAS is a needless tragedy. Victims suffer serious physical problems and often mental problems. They suffer these for their entire lives.

Most cases occur among alcoholics who drink heavily throughout their pregnancies. It’s usually along with smoking and often illegal drug use. But no one knows for certain what level of drinking is safe for a pregnant woman.

While it would appear that moderate consumption is safe, the safer choice would be to abstain.15

Of course, tobacco and illegal drugs are clearly to be avoided. Also a pregnant woman should have good nutrition and see her doctor on a regular basis.16


Cirrhosis of the liver is probably the most widely recognized medical problem of alcoholism.17 It’s a grave and condition. It is a progressive replacement of healthy liver tissue with scars. This can lead to liver failure and death.18 The good news is that alcohol abuse is down as is cirrhosis.19

VI. Help is Available for Alcohol Abuse

Moderation Management stresses balance, moderation, self-management, and personal responsibility to stop alcohol abuse.

Rational Recovery is an alternative to the spiritual nature of AA. Also to its view that alcoholics are powerless and must submit to God’s will in order to recover. Rational Recovery stresses the innate power and strength of individuals themselves to overcome obstacles such as alcohol abuse. It rejects the AA belief that “once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.” Rational Recovery teaches people how to become independent of both alcohol addiction and of organizations dealing with alcohol abuse.

Secular Organizations For Sobriety (SOS) is also known as Save Our Selves. It stresses the need to place the highest priority on sobriety. It uses mutual support to assist members in achieving this goal. The Suggested Guidelines for Sobriety emphasize rational decision-making and are not religious or spiritual.

Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART Recovery) views alcohol dependence as a bad habit. It uses common sense techniques to break the habit.

Women for Sobriety mutual support groups work to enhance the self-esteem of members. Women for Sobriety groups are non-religious and the meetings also differ from those of AA. That is, they prohibit the use of tobacco, caffeine and sugar.

Drink Wise/Age Well (UK) is a brief, confidential program for people with mild to moderate alcohol problems. Members want to eliminate the negative results of their drinking.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the oldest and best-known “twelve-step” program of self-help. It’s for alcoholics who wish to abstain from drinking. Founded in 1935 and based on a religious movement, members must follow the Twelve Steps of AA. Learn about the effectiveness of AA.

Al-anon seeks to help families and friends of alcoholics recover from the effects of living with alcohol abuse. Alateen is a program that attempts to help young people recover. Al-anon members sponsor it. Both Al-anon and Alateen are adapted from AA and are based on the Twelve Steps.