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Alcoholism in America: The Ways in Which “Risky Drinking” Affects Us

A new HBO documentary, titled Risky Drinking, premiered last month. The film, which was produced in collaboration with the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), aims to shed light on the national epidemic of alcoholism, and the ways in which it is affecting the lives and relationships of individuals worldwide.

As the film’s summary reminds us, nearly 70% of American adults drink alcohol, while nearly 1/3 engage in “problem drinking” at some stage in their lives. According to NIAAA statistics for 2014, roughly 25 percent of adults admitted to binge drinking in a given month.

These statistics further prove the growing crisis of alcoholism. As it threads itself through many families, and becomes part of new generations, alcohol abuse is a common connector, no matter where in the world you may be.

In an interview with Refinery 29, Dr. Carrie Wilkens, one of the experts featured in Risky Drinking, spoke about the evolving perceptions associated with alcoholism, stating that, “You can hear how people talk about it still. They think, Am I an alcoholic or not? It’s very black and white — either you have a problem or you don’t. But research and clinical evidence all points to the fact that people have a range of issues, and for most people [the issues they’re dealing with] shift throughout time.”

For the 17.6 million people nationwide—and countless related families and loved ones—who suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence, this statement speaks volumes.

The documentary defines “risky drinking” as “at-risk” or “heavy” drinking. As Dr. Wilkens mentioned, the issues affecting an individual related to substance use are likely to change over the course of a lifetime. Although, specifically in the case of alcoholism, one factor remains constant: there is an ongoing relationship between the individual and alcohol that is adversely affecting the individual’s well-being.

The conditions associated with “at-risk” or “heavy drinking,” set forth by the NIAAA, are as follows:

  • For men, more than 4 drinks per day, or more than 14 per week
  • For women, more than 3 drinks per day, or more than 7 per week

The NIAAA notes that these drinking patterns can often lead to more serious alcohol use disorders, including alcohol dependence. The more the person engages in heavy drinking, the more likely they are to become dependent on the substance.

As the “most commonly used addictive substance,” alcohol is easily accessible—and easily abused. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) reports that more than half of all adults have an associated family history of alcoholism, playing a significant role in family dynamics and development.

While some may be more at risk to develop an alcohol use disorder than others, the facts surrounding alcoholism remain. The symptoms and signs should be recognized without stigma attached, and individualized treatment should be readily available to those in need.

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