What Is the Scope of Alcohol Addiction Today?

This article outlines the scope of alcohol addiction in the U.S. today, highlighting some of the unique ways in which drinking to excess takes a serious toll on the human body and society at large.

Liquor store neon sign

Millions of Americans consume alcohol, a mind-altering substance that, though known to produce harm, is legal and socially acceptable in American culture. Unfortunately, rates of alcohol addiction, health issues connected to alcohol, and alcohol-related deaths are all on the rise, indicating the need for alcohol addiction treatment and a societal shift in perspectives regarding alcohol.

Alcohol Addiction Statistics in United States

Every year, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) publishes information identifying the scope of alcohol consumption, misuse, addiction, and alcohol-related death. According to the NIAAA’s data:1

Teenagers drinking alcohol in a park
  • About 177 million people over the age of 12 drank alcohol at least once in 2022.

  • About 4.93 million people had to seek help at the emergency room for an alcohol-related accident, injury, or illness in 2022.

  • Approximately 23.5% of Americans 18 and up report binge drinking (drinking to excess) at least once per month.

  • The NIAAA reported that about 29.5 million Americans met the criteria for alcohol addiction in 2022.

  • Sadly, 140,557 Americans died from alcohol-related causes in 2022 — 58,277 from acute alcohol-related accidents or injuries and 82,279 from chronic causes like alcohol-related liver disease.

  • NIAAA reports alcohol is having an increasingly harmful effect on U.S. families. One in ten children lives with at least one parent who misuses alcohol.

  • Alcohol consumption also has a serious economic burden on the U.S., costing Americans about $249 billion each year, three-quarters of that cost being attributed to excessive drinking.

  • Alcohol deaths increased by 25% from 2019 to 2020. Such deaths increased again by 10% between 2020 and 2021.

  • About 31% of all driving fatalities are caused by alcohol-impaired driving, amounting to about 13,000 deaths per year.

Alcohol brewery

While the above statistics and the pictures they paint are quite concerning, the most alarming factor to consider is the growing nature of alcohol’s harm to the nation over time. Critically, the 25% increase in deaths from 2019 to 2020 and the 10% increase from 2020 to 2021 should act as a warning light for public health officials, policymakers, community leaders, and families.

The Effects of Alcohol on the Body

Research continues to outline and illuminate the many areas of the body that experience harm when one drinks alcohol. While previous health recommendations suggested consuming alcohol in moderation was safe, more recent evidence shows any amount of alcohol consumption can be harmful to one’s health.2

The more alcohol one consumes, and the more often they consume it, the more likely they are to experience serious harm from it. The following is a short list of areas of the body affected by alcohol consumption:3

  • The brain. Alcohol consumption has been linked to ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke.

  • The lungs. Drinking alcohol has been linked to acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia.

  • The muscles. People who drink to excess often experience myopathy and muscle wasting.

  • The pancreas. Alcohol has been linked to illnesses of the pancreas, including both acute and chronic pancreatitis.

  • The bones. People who drink alcohol often experience reduced bone density and slowed fracture repair when injured.

  • The gastrointestinal system. Gut leakiness and microbial dysbiosis are both effects of ongoing alcohol consumption.

  • The liver. The liver is negatively impacted by alcohol, leading to conditions like steatosis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis.

  • The cardiovascular system. Cardiac arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy, ischemic heart disease, and hypertension are connected to alcohol consumption.

Alcohol consumption has also been linked to several types of cancers, with some estimates suggesting it is a factor in about 3.5% of cancer deaths in the U.S. (19,500 deaths annually).

Short and Long-Term Health Risks of Consuming Alcohol

Drinking alcohol to excess has immediate short-term effects, as well as long-term effects that develop gradually from repeated, regular consumption. According to the CDC, some of the short-term effects of drinking include:4

  • Injuries sustained while intoxicated, including motor vehicle accidents, falls, burns, and drownings

  • Instances of violence during intoxication, either as the perpetrator or as the victim (or both)

  • Alcohol poisoning as a result of drinking too much, which can be fatal

  • Risky sexual behaviors resulting from poor judgment while intoxicated

These are some of the long-term effects of alcohol misuse:

Patient with a doctor
  • People who drink to excess over time are likely to develop serious cardiovascular health conditions.

  • Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum are all long-term effects.

  • Consuming alcohol weakens the immune system, both during consumption and after.

  • Dementia, memory loss, cognitive reduction, and other learning/retention problems are connected to alcohol abuse.

  • Mental health problems like depression and anxiety become more pronounced when one drinks to excess.

  • Social and societal problems are intimately connected to alcohol abuse, including unemployment and problems at home.

  • Alcohol addiction, serious injury, and death are some of the most severe, long-term harms associated with alcohol.

The above are by no means complete lists. On the surface, the abuse and misuse of mind-altering substances often look the same from one person to the next. But addiction affects everyone differently. The key common denominator is that misuse of substances like alcohol always causes harm, even if that harm looks different from person to person.

The Need for Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Alcohol misuse and addiction are growing more common in the U.S., evidenced by the increasing number of people who drink to excess and the soaring statistics measuring alcohol-related harm over time. The correct way to address this problem is to help those who are addicted seek help at qualified, residential alcohol addiction treatment centers. Alcohol addiction does not go away on its own, but there are ways to overcome the addiction and achieve sobriety.

If you know someone who drinks alcohol and cannot stop on their own, please help them find and enter a qualified treatment center as soon as possible.


  1. NIAAA. “Alcohol-Related Emergencies and Deaths in the United States.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023. niaaa.nih.gov ↩︎

  2. WHO. “No level of alcohol consumption is safe for our health.” World Health Organization, 2023. who.int ↩︎

  3. NIAAA. “Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023. niaaa.nih.gov ↩︎

  4. CDC. “Alcohol Use and Your Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023. cdc.gov ↩︎


After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective …
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