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Alcohol Use Disorder: Myths and Facts

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on May 14, 2021

Alcohol use disorder is very common. It affects more than 14 million adults in the U.S -- about 1 out of every 18 people in this age group.

Yet this condition, sometimes called alcoholism, alcohol abuse, or alcohol dependence, is often misunderstood. Are you falling for common misconceptions about alcohol use disorder?

Myth: Everyone drinks.

Fact: More than one-third of adults did not consume alcohol in the past year (and more than 45% reported “light drinking,” defined as fewer than three drinks per week), according to the CDC.

Myth: Alcohol is legal, so it can’t be all that harmful.

Fact: Drinking to excess is linked to 95,000 deaths a year in the U.S., as well as higher risks of car crashes; falls, burns and other injuries; and alcohol poisoning. Most people know there's a link between alcohol abuse and liver disease. But excessive drinking has also been linked to higher rates of:

Myth: It can’t happen to me.

Fact: There's no such thing as a "typical alcoholic." Some people are at higher risk, including those with family histories of substance abuse or who have mental health conditions like depression or posttraumatic stress disorder. But it can affect anyone. Many people with alcohol use disorder are still able to hold down jobs and relationships. From the outside, it may look like they don't have problems with alcohol.

Myth: All alcohol use disorders are the same.

Fact: The disease can be mild, moderate, or severe, based on how many symptoms you have and how serious they are. To see how serious it is, your doctor will ask questions about how much alcohol you drink and how it affects you. Those effects might range from a hard time quitting, to a loss of interest in favorite activities, to withdrawal symptoms. Your doctor will also ask about how your drinking affects your loved ones. Even mild alcohol use disorder needs to be treated.

Myth: It’s OK to get drunk on weekends because I don’t drink all week.

Fact: Not everyone who misuses alcohol drinks daily. Excessive drinking is defined as 15 or more drinks per week for men, and eight or more per week for women. But it also includes binge drinking, which is five or more drinks (for men) or four or more drinks (for women) on a single occasion. Binge drinking is actually the most common form of excessive drinking.

Myth: It doesn’t affect anyone else when I drink too much.

Fact: Alcohol misuse can cause many problems, ranging from missed school or work obligations to arrests for driving while intoxicated. Excessive drinking can also lead to issues in your relationships, including family violence.

Myth: People can stop drinking any time.

Fact: Those with alcohol misuse disorder can't control their alcohol use, and it gets worse over time. It may start out when you drink more, or more often, than you planned. You might try to cut down but not succeed. Eventually, you need to drink more alcohol to feel the effects. You may have nausea, sweating, crankiness, and other withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop drinking.

Myth: There's no treatment for alcohol use disorder.

Fact: A treatment plan for alcohol use disorder may include:

  • Prescription medications to reduce your urge to drink
  • Counseling or other behavioral therapies to help you develop coping skills
  • Support groups (virtual or in person) to provide encouragement and motivation for behavior changes
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: “Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.”

CDC: "Heavy Drinking Among U.S. Adults, 2018."

Penn Medicine: “What is Alcoholism?”

American Psychological Association: “Understanding alcohol use disorders and their treatment.”

American Addiction Centers: "What Is a 'High-Functioning' Alcoholic?"

Harvard Health Publishing: " Alcohol abuse."

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