Alcoholism Statistics and Facts



The World Health Organization defines alcoholism as, Alcoholics as are those excessive drinkers whose dependence upon alcohol has reached such a degree that it results in noticeable mental disturbance or interference with their bodily and mental health, their interpersonal relations, their smooth social and economic functioning, or those who show signs of such developments.

The American Medical Association defines alcoholism as an illness characterized by significant impairment of physiological, psychological or social functioning that is directly associated with persistent and excessive alcohol use.

There are two concepts regarding alcoholism. First, that alcoholism is a symptom of an underlying mental condition, defect, or pathology (this position is sometimes reflected in the statement that alcoholism is a mental disease); or second that alcoholism is a chronic illness. The symptom orientation develops from psychoanalytic theory and has permeated the psychiatric and social work professions in particular.

Alcoholism is caused due to prolonged intake of alcohol in toxic quantities and due to this certain biochemical reaction, physiologic, metabolic or genetic defects in the organism result, which are hypothesized as possible etiologic factors.

The disease concept of alcoholism, however, has implications for the treatment process. Doctors may overlook the possibility of alcoholism in a patient. Symptoms such as memory loss might be the result of aging rather than a symptom of alcoholism. Because alcoholism usually involves denial, alcoholics may tell their doctors about related medical complaints, but hide their alcohol abuse.

The consulting doctor will also perform a physical examination to look for medical problems associated with alcohol abuse. Laboratory tests may be performed, including various tests of blood and urine. A toxicology screen or measurement of blood alcohol level will confirm recent alcohol ingestion. This doesn’t confirm alcoholism, however, because these tests show recent alcohol consumption, not long-term usage. Other blood tests measure the size of red blood cells, which increase with long-term alcohol use, and a factor called carbohydrate-deficient transferring, which may indicate heavy alcohol consumption. Liver enzyme changes, such as high level of gammaGT, are an indication of chronic alcohol intake

Only 15 percent of alcoholics seek treatment. Most alcoholics undergo screening or start treatment reluctantly because they are in denial about their disease. Often alcoholics agree for treatment only after their family, friends or doctors persuade them to do so. Intervention is a process whereby concerned people close to the alcoholic step in and make a concerted effort to help the person accept the need for treatment. If a person is considering intervention for a friend or a family member, she/he should first discuss how best to go about it with a professional experienced in this area. An alcoholic cannot be forced to get help except under certain circumstances, such as when his behavior results in a crime or following a medical emergency.


The first step in treatment is to determine whether the person seeking treatment is alcohol dependent. If she/he is an alcoholic then complete abstinence (cutting out alcohol altogether) is always necessary for a successful recovery.

Alcoholism usually requires treatment programs that include medical supervision and counseling. Treatment may involve an outpatient program or a residential inpatient stay. Treatment programs have varying success rates. Studies show that only a few alcoholics remain sober after one year of treatment, while others have periods of sobriety alternating with relapse several times, but this does not mean that a patient cannot eventually achieve long term sobriety. The longer one abstains from alcohol, the more likely she/he is to remain sober. She/he may feel a desire for alcohol throughout his life, however. Some alcoholics are unable to stop drinking for any length of time.


In conclusion, alcoholism is a major social, economic and public health problem and reason for over half of all unnatural deaths and almost half of all traffic fatalities. A high percentage of suicide involves the use of alcohol in combination with other substances. Additional deaths are related to long-term medical complications associated with the disease. The life-span of an alcoholic is shortened by an average of 15 years, as a result of the various complications of the disease. If a person stops drinking, alcohol-associated health problems can often be controlled or prevented.




Adler, A., The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychotherapy ( 1998), New York: Harcourt.

Bailey, M.B, and Fuchs, E., Alcoholism and the Social Worker, Social Work (1960), (4), pp. 14-19.

Cartwright, S. and Cooper, C., No Hassle: Taking the Stress out Work (1999), London: Century Business Books

WHO Expert Committee on Addiction-Producing Drugs, Technical Reports Series No. 273, (1994) Geneva: World Health Organization.


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