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The Social Effects of Alcoholism

Alcohol is the term used for ethanol, the substance suitable for humans to drink, versus methanol, which is toxic. Fermented grain, fruit juice and honey have been used to make alcohol (ethyl alcohol or ethanol) for about 10,000 years. There is evidence that humans imbibed in alcohol in China, circa 7000 B.C., Babylonians worshiped a wine goddess as early as 2700 B.C. and Ancient Greek literature warned against excessive drinking.1 Of course, many Roman emperors and their consorts gained infamy for heavy drinking and other decadent behaviors. People around the world continue to consume many types of alcohol in various cultural settings. Drinking on occasion with friends, relatives and co-workers can be an enjoyable way to celebrate events and socialize, however, for too many people, this activity becomes excessive and reckless.

Alcohol Statistics

  • About 17.6 million adults in the U.S. currently suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence. Several million more people engage in risky, binge drinking patterns that can lead to alcohol problems.2
  • Nearly 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes every year in the U.S.3
  • As many as one-third of adults in the U.S. have alcohol use disorder (AUD) at some point in their lives, but only about 20 percent receive treatment.4
  • In 2014, an estimated 679,000 adolescents ages 12-17 had an AUD.5
  • About 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for an AUD.5
  • Every year, about 1,825 students ages 18-24 incur alcohol-related unintentional fatal injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes.5
  • About 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing class, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers and receiving lower grades overall.5

Social Effects of Alcohol on the Family

Although many people drink because it makes them feel better about themselves, drinking excessively can negatively impact one’s personality. Wives and girlfriends of alcoholics are often subjected to many types of alcohol-related abuse. Couples can also exhibit mutually violent behaviors attributed to alcohol. Research indicates that marriages in which only one spouse drinks heavily end in divorce 50 percent of the time.4 Data indicates that 12-70 percent of adults who abuse children are alcoholics.6

Children of alcoholics often have deep-seated psychological and emotional problems due to growing up with an addicted parent. Children of substance abusers are 3-4 times more likely than peers to become addicted to alcohol or other drugs.7 Children of alcoholics are at higher risk for developing an array of emotional problems including mistrust, guilt, shame, confusion, ambivalence, fear and insecurities. These emotional issues can cause socialization problems for children, e.g., they may avoid friendships because they are embarrassed or afraid to invite other children to their house.6

Anger and problematic alcohol use have been established as individual risk factors for intimate partner violence (IPV), victimization and perpetration. A large study on 215 heterosexual couples in the Midwest and Southeast U.S. was conducted to analyze mutually violent behavioral patterns. Participants were required to be healthy overall without major medical problems or a psychiatric diagnosis, and could not be in active treatment for a psychological or relationship-related issue. In addition, at least one of the two had to consume an average of at least five (for men) or four (for women) or more standard drinks per occasion at least twice a month in the past year. No mean differences were observed across gender for trait anger or physical IPV perpetration. However, significant differences were observed across gender for IPV victimization and problematic alcohol use. Men experienced more IPV victimization and reported more problematic drinking. The results of this study suggest that anger and problematic drinking patterns play different yet important roles for men and women in mutually violent relationships.8

Effects of Alcoholism on Society at Large

The damaging effects of alcohol abuse are not limited to the person who drinks nor to those closest to them. Alcohol abuse is linked to many social ills including sexual assaults against acquaintances and drunk driving accidents that result in strangers losing their lives. Alcohol has inflicted a huge financial toll on our nation, with the cost of excessive alcohol use reaching $249 billion in 2010, or about $2.05 per drink. Of all these costs, the highest by far was attributed to a loss in workplace productivity (72 percent of the total cost). Other costs included healthcare expenses for treating problems caused by excessive drinking (11 percent), law enforcement and other criminal justice expenses (10 percent) and motor vehicle crashes related to excessive alcohol use (5 percent).9 In 2014, there were 9,967 alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities, which accounted for 31 percent of all driving fatalities.5

Sexual assaults on college campuses have garnered huge media coverage and heightened public awareness of late. Unless you never follow the news, it is likely you are familiar with the campus rape case involving Brock Turner, a Stanford University swimmer (now former student) who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman who was not a student after they were both at a hard drinking frat party. He admitted to drinking and his victim was so inebriated from alcohol that she fell unconscious. Court documents obtained by CNN shed new light on the disturbing assault and Turner’s apparent history of alcohol abuse and sexually aggressive behavior.10 Sadly, every year, an estimated 696,000 students ages 18-24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking and 97,000 students ages 18-24 experience alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.5

The social repercussions of alcohol are far reaching and often tragic. If you or somebody you know needs an alcohol detox program, call Promises today at 1-888-545-4618.

  1. Alcohol: A Short History. Foundation for a Drug-Free World website. Accessed July 29 2016.
  2. Facts About Alcohol. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence website. Updated July 25, 2015. Accessed July 29, 2016.
  3. Stahre, M, Roeber, J, Kanny, D, et al. Contribution of excessive alcohol consumption to deaths and years of potential life lost in the United States. Preventing Chronic Disease. 11:E109, 2014.
  4. 10 percent of US adults have drug use disorder at some point in their lives. National Institutes for Health website. Published November 18, 2015. Accessed July 29, 2016.
  5. Alcohol Facts and Statistics. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website.  Published January 2016. Accessed July 29, 2016.
  6. Effects of Parental Substance Abuse on Children and Families. American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress website. Accessed July 21, 2016.
  7. Children of Addicted Parents: Important Facts. National Association for Children of Alcoholics website. Accessed July 29, 2016.
  8. Sprunger JG, Eckhardt CI, Parrott DJ. Anger, problematic alcohol use, and intimate partner violence victimization and perpetration. Crim Behav Ment Health. 2015 Dec 10;25(4):273-86. doi: 10.1002/cbm.1976.
  9. Excessive Drinking is Draining the U.S. Economy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Updated January 12, 2016. Accessed July 29, 2016.
  10. Stanford rape case: Inside the court documents. CNN website. Updated June 11, 2016. Accessed July 29, 2016.

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