Alcohol is legal almost everywhere in the world.

Relatively easy access to the substance, and the ease with which it can be made or purchased on the black market if it is not readily accessible to consumers for some reason, has meant that the substance is the source of a range of medical disorders for hundreds of millions of people.

Without taking into account the fact that alcohol contributes to a number of chronic and deadly diseases (e.g., heart disease, certain cancers, etc.), an estimated 240 million people – or 5 percent of the world’s population – are suffering from an alcohol use disorder like alcoholism, according to a study published in the journal Addiction. A medical issue unto itself, this often causes a number of problems for the drinker, including:

  • Co-occurring medical problems
  • Co-occurring mental health issues
  • Increased risk of accident (e.g., accidental firearm discharge, drowning, car accident)
  • Increased risk of job loss and ongoing unemployment
  • Increased risk of divorce and broken family relationships

Additionally, the study found that 1 billion people around the world use tobacco, also a legal substance.

The Study

Linda Gowing was lead researcher on the study, and she is also an associate professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia. She believes that the study is important because it highlights the fact that while illegal drugs are certainly harmful, there is a huge negative impact created by use of legal substances as well. In fact, she estimates that disability caused by alcohol use is three times higher than that caused by use of illegal drugs.

Robert West, the editor in chief at Addiction, concurs: “The most striking thing to emerge is how much more damage is done to society by legal drugs than illegal ones.”

According to US Department of Health and Human Services, Gowing and her team of researchers also found that:

  • The heaviest drinkers are located in Eastern Europe, trailed closely by Northern Europe. It is estimated that every year in Eastern Europe, each person is responsible for consuming an average of 3.7 gallons of alcohol.
  • The lightest drinkers are located in Asia, where the average person drinks less than a half-gallon of alcohol each year.
  • Injection drug use was most problematic in North and Central America and the Caribbean, while Northern Europe had the lowest numbers of injection drug users; they also estimated that about 15 million people inject drugs around the world.
  • Eastern Europe also had the highest rates of tobacco use as did the Oceania region with 30 percent of the adults smoking. Western Europe was close behind with 20 percent of adults smoking.

Do You Have an Alcohol Abuse Problem?

It’s simple to define a problem with illegal drugs: if you’re using them, you’re putting your freedom at risk due to the fact that they are illegal, and thus it’s a problem. Simple. It’s not so simple, however, when the substance is legal, especially when its use is widespread and so many people manage to use it regularly without experiencing any discernible immediate hardship as a result.

So how can you tell if you have a problem with alcohol? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you frequently late for work, miss work entirely, or make mistakes at work because you have a hangover or are tired after heavy drinking?
  • Do you drink more than three drinks in a day or seven drinks total in a week if you’re a woman under the age of 65, or a man or woman over the age of 65?
  • Do you drink more than four drinks in a day or 14 drinks in a week if you are a man under the age of 65?
  • Do you ever drink at work, before driving, in the morning, or at other times that are unsafe or inappropriate?
  • Do you lie about drinking or about how much you’ve had to drink?
  • Do you ever black out and can’t remember what happened during a drinking session?
  • Do you frequently have to apologize for things you do or say while you are drinking?

Any of these issues on an ongoing basis can indicate that you have an alcohol use disorder. If you are unable to moderate your drinking or stop entirely on your own, then treatment is recommended.

Alcohol Addiction

In addition to an inability to stop drinking, your alcohol problem may be serious (e.g., alcohol addiction or alcoholism) and require immediate treatment as well. Ask yourself:

  • Do you frequently drink and drive?
  • Have you been arrested for your behavior under the influence?
  • Do you become violent or aggressive, harming friends, family members, or strangers when you are under the influence?
  • Can you drink high amounts of alcohol and still not feel drunk or buzzed?
  • Do you experience physical withdrawal symptoms when you are without alcohol or try to stop drinking (e.g., nausea and vomiting, tremors, irritability, etc.)?
  • Do you focus heavily on getting drunk and staying drunk, and feel uncomfortable or irritable if you are unable to drink?
  • Do you spend less time working toward goals, engaging in hobbies, or being with people that used to be a big part of your life?

Related: Am I An Alcoholic The Difference Between Casual Drinking & Alcoholism

If you are mentally, physically, and emotionally dependent upon alcohol and cannot stop drinking without experiencing withdrawal symptoms, treatment for alcohol addiction can help. Medically supervised detox is recommended as withdrawal symptoms can be serious and even life-threatening without medical care in some cases. Learn more today.

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