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Facts on Alcoholism


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Alcoholism is a major health problem in the US, ranking with cancer and heart disease as a threat to health. Alcoholism is a progressive disease in which drinking increasingly affects a person's health, family life, social life and job. Untreated, alcoholism results in physical incapacity, insanity or death.

A Basic but Significant Question: What is Alcohol?

The alcohol that people drink at bars, parties, or at other social functions is called ethyl alcohol or ethanol.

Ethyl alcohol is produced by fermentation, a process in which yeast fungus feeds on starches and/or sugars in different grains (such as rice, hops, or barley) or fruits (especially grapes) and excretes alcohol along with carbon dioxide (CO2).

Q: How does alcoholism start?

A: Doctors don't know all the reasons why people become alcoholics. Some start out drinking a little bit or using drugs and end up hooked on alcohol or other drugs. A person might drink to forget problems or to calm nerves but then end up needing alcohol to feel normal. Once a person loses control over drinking, he or she needs help to stop drinking.

Q: If the alcoholic is sick why doesn't he or she just go to the hospital?

A: At first, the alcoholic is not aware that he or she is ill. Even when the alcoholic becomes aware that something is wrong, he or she may not believe that alcohol is the problem. An alcoholic might keep blaming things on other people, on his or her job, or whatever. But, really, it's the alcohol that's the biggest problem.

Which medications treat alcoholism?

Three oral medications-disulfiram (Antabuse®), naltrexone (Depade®, ReVia®), and acamprosate (Campral®)-are currently approved to treat alcohol dependence. In addition, an injectable, long-acting form of naltrexone (Vivitrol®) is available. These medications have been shown to help people with dependence reduce their drinking, avoid relapse to heavy drinking, and achieve and maintain abstinence. Naltrexone acts in the brain to reduce craving for alcohol after someone has stopped drinking.

Alcohol Consumption

Moderate alcohol use, up to two drinks per day, is not considered harmful for most adults. Nonetheless, a large number of people get into serious trouble because of their drinking. According to the most current government information, nearly 14 million

Americans, 1 in every 13 adults abuses alcohol or are alcoholic. Several million more adults engage in risky drinking that could lead to alcohol problems.


Almost half of Americans aged 12 or older reported being current drinkers of alcohol in the 2001 survey (48.3 percent). This translates to an estimated 109 million people. Both the rate of alcohol use and the number of drinkers increased from 2000, when 104 million, or 46.6 percent, of people aged 12 or older reported drinking in the past 30 days.

Approximately one fifth (20.5 percent) of persons aged 12 or older participated in binge drinking at least once in the 30 days prior to the survey. Although the number of current drinkers increased between 2000 and 2001, the number of those reporting binge drinking did not change significantly.

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