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Facts and Statistics about Alcohol Abuse in the United States

Alcohol is one of the most commonly ingested substances in America. Current alcohol use trends, statistics and research can help guide your own decisions about alcohol.

Unless otherwise stated, the statistics mentioned below are referenced from data sources created from 2018–2021.

Alcohol is one of the most commonly ingested substances in the world. It’s estimated that 139.7 million Americans currently use alcohol, a number that equals roughly half of the population in 2019. Unfortunately, it is often abused. The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found roughly 16 million Americans were heavy alcohol users, and 14.5 million Americans had an alcohol use disorder. The stress and isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic may have worsened these numbers. In a survey conducted by The Recovery Village in May 2020: 

  • 88% reported drinking alcohol
  • 55% reported an increase in alcohol consumption
  • 18% reported a significant increase 

The term alcohol use disorder can be used interchangeably with alcoholism, alcohol dependence or alcohol addiction. This disorder contributes to more than 200 separate health conditions and alcohol-related injuries. Alcohol misuse costs the United States approximately $250 billion annually.

Many individuals have their first alcoholic beverage before entering high school and can be unaware of the dangers of excessive alcohol use. Early exposure to alcohol can have damaging and long-lasting effects on brain development. Although experiences differ from one individual to the next, it is important to understand key alcohol definitions, statistics and facts.

Table of Contents

Article at a Glance:

There are several important takeaways about alcohol use statistics, including:

  • Alcohol use differs substantially by age, biological sex, race and ethnicity, education, employment status and other demographic factors.
  • Excessive alcohol use can significantly increase your risk for many health problems, injuries and fatal alcohol-related incidents. 
  • Heavy alcohol use increases your risk of intense withdrawal symptoms and intensive care, which may make medical detox and rehab treatment necessary for some to achieve long-term recovery. 

Alcohol Statistics by Age

Alcohol use trends vary by age in America. Both young adults (18-25) and adults (26 and older) report the highest rate of current alcohol use relative to older adults (65 and older) or teenagers (12-17).

Binge drinking involves having five or more drinks on one occasion in the past month for males or four drinks for females. Heavy alcohol use involves binge drinking on five or more days in the past month. Young adults report the highest rates of binge drinking and heavy alcohol use.

Alcohol Abuse Statistics in Adults

Among young adults ages 18-25:

  • Approximately 54.3% of young adults reported current alcohol use
  • Almost 34.3% of young adults reported binge drinking in the past month
  • Nearly 8.4% of young adults reported heavy alcohol use in the past month

It is well understood that alcohol impacts the brain’s ability to function. Since the brain is not fully developed until the age of 25, young adults should exercise caution when consuming alcohol.

Among adults aged 26 and over:

  • Approximately 55.0% of adults reported currently using alcohol
  • Nearly 24.5% of adults reported binge drinking in the past month
  • Close to 6.0% of adults reported heavy alcohol use in the past month

For adults, excessive alcohol consumption is associated with increased risk for head and neck, esophageal, liver and colorectal cancers for both men and women, and increased breast cancer risk for women. In fact, in updated guidelines, the American Cancer Society recommends avoiding alcohol altogether. 

Alcohol Use Stats in Teens

Among teenagers ages 12-17, alcohol use statistics reveal:

  • 9.4% of participants reported currently using alcohol
  • 4.9% of teens reported binge drinking in the past month
  • 0.8% of teens reported heavy alcohol use in the past month

For teenagers, particularly in the pre-pubescent stage, alcohol can impact sex hormones and delay puberty

Underage Alcohol Statistics

In a study conducted in 2019, 7.0 million adolescents ages 12-20 reported currently using alcohol despite its illegality for this age group.

Of the adolescents currently using alcohol, approximately 4.2 million (11.1%) reported binge drinking, while 825,000  (2.2%) reported heavy alcohol use.

Alcohol Statistics in Seniors

In seniors aged 65 and older:

  • 65% of seniors reported high-risk drinking, where they exceeded daily guidelines at least once a week.
  • More than 10% of seniors binge drink.
  • Between 2001 and 2013, alcohol use disorder in this age group more than doubled.

Older adults have less tolerance for alcohol as they age. In particular, seniors who mix alcohol and their medications can have more severe reactions than their younger counterparts. In addition, seniors who partake in heavy alcohol use are more likely to experience health problems. Having more than three drinks per day or seven drinks per week for older adults can lead to increased health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, memory issues, mood disorders and heart failure.

Alcohol Statistics by Gender

Physical differences between men and women impact how alcohol is metabolized, among many other epidemiological factors. Some gender-specific statistics on alcohol use include:

Alcohol Abuse Statistics by Race and Ethnicity

Alcohol use disorders cross age, biological sex, ethnicity and other factors. However, statistics suggest that certain ethnic groups are disproportionately affected by alcohol use:

Alcohol Use Stats in the LGBTQ+ Community

According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), alcohol has a greater impact on the LGBTQ+ community than the average population: 

  • 60.2% of LGBTQ+ Americans aged 18 and older (or 9.0 million) reported current alcohol use, compared to 54.7% (137.4 million) of all adults.
  • 12% of LGBTQ+ Americans aged 18 and older (or 1.7 million) struggled with an alcohol use disorder, compared to only 7.2% (14.1 million) of all adults.

Multiple studies have also found lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youths are at a higher risk for alcohol misuse and alcohol use disorders than their peers. Addiction recovery resources designed around the unique factors that influence this trend are available to help LGBTQ+ individuals enter recovery from past alcohol abuse. 

Alcohol Abuse Among Firefighters and Veterans

Firefighters, first responders and veterans are often repeatedly exposed to trauma as part of the day-to-day lifestyle surrounding these careers. This can make them more likely to abuse alcohol as an unhealthy way to cope:

  • 85% of firefighters reported drinking alcohol in the past month
  • 50% of firefighters reported heavy or binge drinking in the past month
  • 9% of firefighters reported driving while intoxicated

Firefighters also reported drinking alcohol ten days per month on average, or about half of their off-duty days. In a 2013 study by SAMHSA, 65.4% of veterans who entered substance abuse treatment were getting help for alcohol abuse.

Alcohol Statistics by Education Level

The relationship between education level and alcohol consumption patterns is well-founded but complex. Attaining higher levels of education has been associated with: 

  • Lower frequency of binge drinking
  • Lower frequency of memory loss due to drinking (blacking out)
  • Fewer drinks consumed per day
  • Lowered odds of high-risk drinking behavior (or having at least one heavy drinking episode in the last year)

A recent 2019 study found that adding an additional 3.61 years of schooling generally led to a 50% reduced risk of alcohol dependence. 

Alcohol Statistics by Employment Status

A review of over 130 studies has found links between unemployment and substance use. Specifically, unemployed people are 87% more likely than the employed to report heavy alcohol use and 29% more likely to develop alcohol dependence. Past-year unemployment has also been linked to increases in:

  • How much alcohol the person consumes daily, on average
  • How frequently people drink heavily
  • How probable an alcohol use disorder diagnosis is 

Alcoholism Rates by Income Level

Alcohol statistics also vary by income level. A recent survey conducted by The Recovery Village found that alcohol use in general increases as household income increases. Looking into specific drinking patterns, a 2012 study also found that lower-income households are more likely to either not drink at all or have heavy drinking episodes. Higher-income households are more likely to drink lighter amounts of alcohol more frequently. 

Related: What Professions Have the Highest Rates of Drug and Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol-Related Death Stats and Other Impacts on Health

Excessive alcohol use is responsible for thousands of injuries and fatalities every year in the United States. In fact, alcohol is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Recent estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) attribute more than 95,000 deaths per year to alcohol in the U.S. alone. That’s 261 deaths every day. Many of these are related to the effects of long-term alcohol use: liver disease, heart disease and certain cancers. However, a good portion are from a short-term effect: alcohol poisoning:

  • Approximately 2,200 individuals die from alcohol poisoning every year.
  • Alcohol poisoning deaths most often occur in adults ages 35-64.
  • The highest percentage of individuals who die from alcohol poisoning are non-Hispanic Caucasian Americans.

Alcohol-Related Health Stats

Beyond the short-term dangers, heavy alcohol use can increase your risk for damaging and sometimes fatal health complications. In a 2021 study by The Recovery Village, respondents were asked about their alcohol use and given a list of related illnesses or health issues they may have experienced. Compared to moderate or light alcohol users, heavy alcohol users were consistently at higher risk for having these health complications. In fact, heavy drinkers in our study had more than doubled their risk. They were:

  • 2.12 times more likely to have liver disease
  • 2.26 times more likely to have cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
  • 2.06 times more likely to have high blood pressure
  • 2.26 times more likely to have cardiovascular disease
  • 2.77 times more likely to have nerve damage
  • 2.18 times more likely to have pancreatitis

They were also at higher risk for other common health complications compared to moderate or light drinkers. Heavy drinkers were:

  • 85% more likely to be depressed
  • 61% more likely to have a weakened immune system
  • 73% more likely to have seizures
  • 48% more likely to have cancer

While it’s true that a few heavy drinkers reported no health complications, the chances weren’t good: heavy drinkers were 71% less likely to have none of these illnesses compared to other people in the study.

Drunk Driving Statistics

Alcohol consumption can endanger more than just yourself: many people put themselves or others at risk while under the influence. Every fifty minutes, a person in the United States dies from motor vehicle accidents related to alcohol use.

Other informative drunk driving statistics include:

Alcohol Abuse Lifestyle Effects Stats

Alcohol misuse can impact aspects of your life in ways you may not expect. After surveying over one thousand people who had chosen to stop using alcohol, a recent poll by The Recovery Village found physical health (61%), mental health (52%) and relationships (47%) are the most common negative impacts. Drinking also impacted people’s careers, parental abilities, finances, hygiene and legal status.

When asked to rank these impacts, it didn’t matter if you drank heavily or not: physical health, mental health and relationships still took the biggest hit in respondents’ lives.

Statistics About Treatment and Recovery

In a 2021 study conducted by The Recovery Village, 1,559 people were asked about their experiences with alcohol detox, rehab treatment and recovery to find statistics, trends and risk estimates among people in recovery from alcohol abuse.

Alcohol Detox & Withdrawal Symptoms

Among the study’s respondents, 72% detoxed from alcohol at home, and 28% did so at a rehab facility or medical center. When deciding between detoxing at home versus at a medical center or rehab facility, respondents ranked safety and comfort as their top two factors. 

Average Length of Detox

While detoxing from alcohol, respondents’ withdrawal symptoms lasted for an average of 4.83 days. For 95% of respondents, withdrawal symptoms lasted between 2–8 days. This range stayed the same whether they detoxed from home or at a medical facility. 

Related: How Long Does Alcohol Detox and Withdrawal Take?

Withdrawal Symptoms

Different people experience different withdrawal symptoms but generally follow an alcohol withdrawal timeline. Respondents reported experiencing the following withdrawal symptoms during detox

  • 1 in 2 respondents reported irritability (46.8%)
  • 1 in 2 reported fatigue (42.3%)
  • 1 in 2 reported sweating (44.9%)
  • 1 in 2 reported stress or anxiety (48.6%)
  • 1 in 3 reported hand tremors (33.5%)
  • 1 in 4 reported nausea or vomiting (23.6%)
  • 1 in 4 reported mood swings (23.6%)
  • 1 in 5 reported rapid heart rate (22.9%)
  • 1 in 8 reported hallucinations (13.4%)
  • 1 in 10 reported Delirium tremens (DT) (11.4%)
  • 1 in 12 reported seizures (8.2%)

Across the board, heavy alcohol users reported withdrawal symptoms more than average. Heavy alcohol use also doubled a person’s risk for hallucinations during detox, making them 2.39 times more likely than moderate or light alcohol users to experience them. Compared to others during detox, heavy drinkers were:

  • 90% more likely to experience Delirium Tremens (a potentially fatal complication)
  • 45% more likely to experience seizures 
  • 95% more likely to experience rapid heart rate
  • 147% more likely to experience hand tremors
  • 69% more likely to experience sweating
  • 65% more likely to experience nausea or vomiting
  • 35% more likely to experience irritability
  • 28% more likely to experience fatigue
  • 28% more likely to experience stress or anxiety 
  • 27% more likely to experience mood swings

The more a person drinks, the more difficult and potentially dangerous alcohol detox can get.  Having a medical team there to support you 24/7 during your detox, like at an inpatient detox facility, can give you the best chance at long-term recovery. 

Polysubstance use

Using multiple substances, called polysubstance abuse, can complicate the detox process and make medical care necessary. In the 2021 study, 78.7% of respondents detoxed from alcohol only, while 21.3% detoxed from alcohol and at least one other substance. Compared to those detoxing from alcohol only, people detoxing from polysubstance abuse were:

  • 2.14 times more likely to experience Delirium tremens (DT)
  • 2.25 times more likely to experience seizures
  • 1.60 times more likely to experience hallucinations

While each person’s situation is different, the trend is clear: 36.8% of people detoxing at a rehab facility or medical center were detoxing from multiple substances, compared to only 15.3% of people detoxing at home. If you’re struggling with an addiction to alcohol and another substance, medical detox at a rehab facility may be necessary to keep you safe and as comfortable as possible during this critical time. 

Common Treatment Program Choices

Different rehab programs are available to meet the unique needs of each patient in recovery. Out of the 1,559 people in recovery surveyed:

The more heavily you use alcohol, the more likely higher levels of care will be necessary to begin recovery. Heavy drinkers were 2.42 times more likely to attend inpatient or residential rehab treatment than any other treatment program, most likely due to the increased needs involved with heavy alcohol use. Among first-time rehab patients surveyed:

  • Among inpatient or residential patients, two-thirds (66.5%) qualified as heavy drinkers.
  • Among intensive outpatient patients, half (54.1%) qualified as heavy drinkers.
  • Among outpatient patients, less than half (44.2%) qualified as heavy drinkers.
  • Among teletherapy patients, two-thirds (68%) did not qualify as heavy drinkers. 

Average Length of Treatment

Rehab programs vary in length. For example, outpatient programs generally last longer than inpatient care but require fewer hours per week. Among those surveyed:

  • 55.4% spent less than 30 days in rehab
  • 27.1% spent 31-60 days in rehab
  • 10.8% spent 61-90 days in rehab
  • 6.7% spent more than 90 days in rehab

Traveling for Rehab

Deciding whether to travel for rehab is a personal choice. Most respondents attended rehab treatment locally in their city (63.8%), with 22.5% traveling to another city in their state, 8.8% traveling to a nearby state, and 4.9% traveling across the country for rehab. 

Alcohol Rehab Success Rates

Alcohol rehab success rates vary widely depending on the center, the individual and the specific study used to determine the success rate. Nevertheless, reputable alcohol treatment and recovery centers focus on evidence-based treatment that is tailored to each individual and their needs. 

Relapse Rates

Relapse is common and a part of the recovery process; It doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Only 29.4% of respondents reported not relapsing at all. The largest group (32.3%) relapsed back to alcohol use within the first year after stopping. Thankfully, your chances of relapsing decrease the longer you stay sober: 21.4% relapsed in their second year in recovery, but only 9.6% relapsed in years three through five, and only 7.2% did so after their fifth year in recovery. 

What’s important to remember is that addiction is a chronic condition. While a full continuum of evidence-based care can help increase your chances of success, long-term recovery is about bettering your life outcomes over time. 

Relapse Prevention Strategies

When asked which relapse prevention strategies participants used to stay in recovery:

  • 49% used exercise for relapse prevention
  • 37.1% avoided triggering activities, people and places
  • 34.6% pointed to lifestyle changes they’d made
  • 34.3% used an aftercare treatment plan, including regular therapy appointments
  • 35.0% used 12-step programs or other support groups
  • 28.7% took medication to curb their dependence
  • 22.9% took to journaling
  • 24.6% cited their religion or spirituality as a factor

When asked which relapse prevention strategies were the most helpful for keeping them in recovery, respondents consistently placed lifestyle changes, exercise and avoiding triggers as the top three factors. While everyone’s situation and needs are different, these three strategies are essential to any relapse prevention plan after treatment. 

Alcohol addiction is a common struggle for thousands of people. The Recovery Village has a trained team of medical professionals and clinical counselors ready to help you or someone you know overcome alcohol use disorder. Call The Recovery Village today to learn more about alcohol addiction treatment at one of our facilities.

Alcohol misuse means drinking in a way that could cause harm to yourself or people around you. This includes but isn’t limited to binge drinking, drinking and driving, drinking when you’re under the legal drinking age of 21, drinking while taking certain medications and drinking while pregnant. 

Alcohol use disorder is a chronic brain disorder diagnosed using eleven distinct criteria. Presenting at least two of these eleven symptoms will usually lead to an AUD diagnosis. The disorder can be classified as mild, moderate or severe, but recovery is possible for all of these subclassifications. 

Binge drinking involves having five or more drinks on one occasion in the past month for males or four drinks for females. 

Heavy alcohol use (or heavy drinking) is defined as binge drinking on five or more days in the past month.

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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