While the attitude of our society at large promotes the use of alcohol in a variety of ways, alcoholism is a social stigma that’s misunderstood by many. Chronic alcohol abuse and addiction often result from a learned or developed habit of drinking to manage stress and discomfort. Turning to alcohol in times of distress or to enhance a social experience are societal norms. However, this learned behavior can quickly spiral out of control. So why is alcohol abuse a social problem? What are the social effects of alcohol? Let’s get into it.
Binge Drinking vs. Alcoholism
Approximately 13.9% of people in the United States meet the criteria for alcoholism or alcohol use disorder, and alcohol is involved in over 88,000 deaths per year.1 However, it’s not just people who are addicted to alcohol that contribute to these statistics, but also people who binge on alcohol from time to time.
It’s estimated that 77% of the cost of alcohol abuse in the U.S. is attributed to binge drinking. Binge drinking is a pattern of excessive alcohol abuse, specifically a pattern of drinking that raises a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g/dl or above.2 This typically occurs when men have 5 or more alcoholic drinks or when women consume 4 or more alcoholic drinks within 2 hours.
However, not everyone who engages in binge drinking has an alcohol use disorder or is addicted to alcohol, but it does affect many people. One in six U.S. adults binge drink about four times a month, resulting in 17 billion total binge drinks consumed per year.2
The differences between alcoholism and binge drinking include differences in frequency of drinking and physical dependence. Binge drinkers aren’t usually physically dependent on alcohol, and they have gaps in between their binging episodes. Alcoholics, however, consume alcohol regularly because they’re addicted. Binge drinking is just one of the many social problems with drinking alcohol in excess.
What Are the Social Effects of Alcohol Abuse?
To provide a more clear definition, the social effects of alcohol abuse are changes that are attributed to alcohol in social behavior, social interaction, or your social environment. This means that drinking affects our behavior, the way we interact with others, and our relationships.
Many communities and cultures accept excessive alcohol use. Drinking is also the norm on many holidays, such as Cinco De Mayo and New Year’s Eve. It’s safe to say that drinking plays a huge role in socializing in various countries, and not just in the U.S.
There’s a lot of research on the social issues associated with alcohol, and it’s easy to find yourself in a black hole of information. We’re going to try to simplify these issues.
Increased Risk of Accidents, Injury, and Aggression
People often rely on alcohol’s sedative effects to relax them and help them “enjoy” socializing. The “buzz” or slight intoxication produced by alcohol lowers a person’s inhibitions, leaving them more susceptible to socializing. However, alcohol is involved in a large portion of accidents, self-inflicted injury, or violence.
Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, impairing functions like coordination, concentration, focus, and judgment. As a result, heavy drinking can make it difficult for a person to defend themselves in the event of an emergency, make sound decisions, or rationalize their behavior.
Driving under the influence is a common risk for people who drink heavily often, an all-too-familiar issue that often has fatal consequences. Alcohol is also commonly used as a date rape drug or as a base for other date rape drugs to be mixed with when the victim is distracted, increasing the risk of sexual assault.
Additionally, excessive drinking has also been linked to aggression and injury. Many people involved in accidents, self-inflicted injury, or violence were drinking alcohol – more often as victims of violence (40% to 65% of people who were drinking.)3
Also, 20% to 50% of people who commit suicide or have attempted suicide were intoxicated at the time or known to drink heavily often. In 40% to 80% of cases of violence involving two or more people, the offenders had been drinking.3
In addition to bodily harm to themselves and others, people with alcoholism may also struggle financially and struggle to find and sustain employment. Apart from the money spent on drinks frequently, heavy drinkers may suffer other economic repercussions like lower wages and loss of employment.
Increased medical and legal expenses could also present themselves. Over time, heavy alcohol consumption takes a toll on the body, leading to liver and kidney problems, diabetes, heart disease, and more, all of which can be costly to treat without insurance.
Alcohol’s economic impact is also concerning. When figuring out the cost of alcohol in the U.S., we have to include the direct costs – the goods and services used to address the effects of alcoholism – and the indirect costs – factors like premature death, increased morbidity, and unemployment.
Alcoholism can lead to problems like liver disease and traffic accidents, which can result in expenditures on hospital and outpatient treatment as well as medication. Legal expenses such as welfare, social assistance, counseling for alcoholics and their families, legal intervention, imprisonment, and court work may also present themselves.
Many people who have substance use disorders are often stripped of their visitation rights with their children or limited to a certain length of time until they get help. Moreover, the material damage caused by alcohol-related incidents, such as drunk driving, can also result in significantly high costs for the individual.
Family and Relationship Problems
The effects of alcohol abuse in the community also include the toll of heavy drinking on your relationships. For instance, a marriage can be significantly impacted by a partner’s alcohol abuse. Alcohol-related violence and aggression often contribute to domestic violence, which usually occurs between a person and their spouse or partner.
Alcohol can also have a physical impact, affecting a range of things from your ability to contribute to sex or physical intimacy to behavioral changes that can contribute to enabling and codependence. As you can imagine, these factors can negatively impact a marriage or a romantic relationship, as well as any other relationships within a family.
Children can also be heavily affected by a parent’s alcoholism. Kids who grow up with parents who have problems with excessive drinking are more likely to also develop this problem when they get older. Emotional and psychological problems can also develop in children who aren’t raised with the affection or care needed by a parent who struggles with heavy drinking.
Why is Alcohol A Social Problem?
Alcohol is a social problem because it can have a multi-dimensional impact on the individual drinker, including problems with employment, physical and mental health, interpersonal relationships, finances, economic costs, and legal matters.
Alcohol abuse, while it may seem to only impact the individual, actually creates a ripple effect, impacting other areas of the individual’s life and society as a whole. If you’re close to or in a relationship with an alcoholic, then you may have experienced the brunt of alcohol-related social problems firsthand.
No one is immune to the social effects of alcoholism. Every year, millions of people with alcoholism do not receive the alcohol treatment they need to recover. You don’t have to be one of these people.
At our alcohol rehab in Pennsylvania, we utilize both medically assisted detox and individual and group therapy treatment modalities to help patients physically and mentally recover from addiction. We know that alcohol abuse isn’t just a physical disease but rather a culmination of other social and psychological factors that can be difficult for the individual to address without professional help.
We usually start our patients off with a medically supervised alcohol detox to help them safely get through withdrawal symptoms. This is then followed by our substance-specific program.
However, not only does our Clearbrook manor in Wilkes Barre offer treatment for the individual, but we also provide help for families of alcoholics, such as individual and group therapy, to help them recover from the emotional toll of their loved one’s condition.
If you need alcohol treatment or know someone who does, get help sooner rather than later. Call our Clearbrook rehab in Pennsylvania today at 570-536-9621 to find out more about alcoholism and how you can get started on your recovery.