Major advances in neuroscience, brain imaging and behavioral research show that addiction can be thought of as a complex brain disease affecting behavior. However, it is often viewed as a moral failing due to lack of willpower, and therefore, not treated as a medical illness. Those living with addiction, and their families, often feel isolated in their struggle to understand the disease and find effective treatment. This is due in part to the shame and stigma attached to addiction and to the separation of most treatment from mainstream health care practice.
For more information on activities in Hamilton County designed to address the disease of addiction, visit The Hamilton County Heroin Coalition.
What is alcohol?
Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is an intoxicating ingredient found in beer, wine, and liquor. Alcohol is produced by the fermentation of yeast, sugars, and starches.
How does alcohol affect a person?
Alcohol affects every organ in the body. It is a central nervous system depressant that is rapidly absorbed from the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream. Alcohol is metabolized in the liver by enzymes; however, the liver can only metabolize a small amount of alcohol at a time, leaving the excess alcohol to circulate throughout the body. The intensity of the effect of alcohol on the body is directly related to the amount consumed.
Why do some people react differently to alcohol than others?
Individual reactions to alcohol vary, and are influenced by many factors; such as:
- Race or ethnicity.
- Physical condition (weight, fitness level, etc).
- Amount of food consumed before drinking.
- How quickly the alcohol was consumed.
- Use of drugs or prescription medicines.
- Family history of alcohol problems.
What is a standard drink in the United States?
A standard drink is equal to 14.0 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in
- 12-ounces of beer (5% alcohol content).
- 8-ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content).
- 5-ounces of wine (12% alcohol content).
- 1.5-ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, whiskey).
Is beer or wine safer to drink than liquor?
No. One 12-ounce beer has about the same amount of alcohol as one 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5-ounce shot of liquor. It is the amount of alcohol consumed that affects a person most, not the type of alcoholic drink.
What does moderate drinking mean?
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,1 moderate alcohol consumption is defined as having up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. This definition is referring to the amount consumed on any single day and is not intended as an average over several days. However, the Dietary Guidelines do not recommend that individuals who do not drink alcohol start drinking for any reason.
Is it safe to drink alcohol and drive?
No. Alcohol use slows reaction time and impairs judgment and coordination, which are all skills needed to drive a car safely. The more alcohol consumed, the greater the impairment.
What does it mean to be above the legal limit for drinking?
The legal limit for drinking is the alcohol level above which an individual is subject to legal penalties (e.g., arrest or loss of a driver’s license).
- Legal limits are measured using either a blood alcohol test or a breathalyzer.
- Legal limits are typically defined by state law, and may vary based on individual characteristics, such as age and occupation.
All states in the United States have adopted 0.08% (80 mg/dL) as the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle for drivers aged 21 years or older. However, drivers younger than 21 are not allowed to operate a motor vehicle with any level of alcohol in their system.
Note: Legal limits do not define a level below which it is safe to operate a vehicle or engage in some other activity. Impairment due to alcohol use begins to occur at levels well below the legal limit.
How do I know if it’s okay to drink?
According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans1, some people should not drink alcoholic beverages at all, including:
- Anyone younger than age 21.
- Women who are or may be pregnant.
- Individuals who are driving, planning to drive, or are participating in other activities requiring skill, coordination, and alertness.
- Individuals taking certain prescription or over-the-counter medications that can interact with alcohol.
- Individuals with certain medical conditions.
- Persons recovering from alcoholism or are unable to control the amount they drink.
The Dietary Guidelines also recommend that if alcohol is consumed, it should be in moderation—up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men—and only by adults of legal drinking age. However, the Guidelines do not recommend that individuals who do not drink alcohol start drinking for any reason. By following the Dietary Guidelines, you can reduce the risk of harm to yourself or others.
What is excessive alcohol use?
Excessive alcohol use includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, any alcohol use by people under the 21 minimum legal drinking age, and any alcohol use by pregnant women.
What is binge drinking?
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism binge drinking is defined as a pattern of alcohol consumption that brings the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to 0.08% or more. This pattern of drinking usually corresponds to 5 or more drinks on a single occasion for men or 4 or more drinks on a single occasion for women, generally within about 2 hours.
What do you mean by heavy drinking?
For men, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 15 drinks or more per week. For women, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 8 drinks or more per week.
What is the difference between alcoholism and alcohol abuse?
Alcohol abuse is a pattern of drinking that results in harm to one’s health, interpersonal relationships, or ability to work. Manifestations of alcohol abuse include the following:
- Failure to fulfill major responsibilities at work, school, or home.
- Drinking in dangerous situations, such as drinking while driving or operating machinery.
- Legal problems related to alcohol, such as being arrested for drinking while driving or for physically hurting someone while drunk.
- Continued drinking despite ongoing relationship problems that are caused or worsened by drinking.
- Long-term alcohol abuse can turn into alcohol dependence.
Dependency on alcohol, also known as alcohol addiction and alcoholism, is a chronic disease. The signs and symptoms of alcohol dependence include—
- A strong craving for alcohol.
- Continued use despite repeated physical, psychological, or interpersonal problems.
- The inability to limit drinking.
What does it mean to get drunk?
“Getting drunk” or intoxicated is the result of consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. Binge drinking typically results in acute intoxication.
Alcohol intoxication can be harmful for a variety of reasons, including—
- Impaired brain function resulting in poor judgment, reduced reaction time, loss of balance and motor skills, or slurred speech.
- Dilation of blood vessels causing a feeling of warmth but resulting in rapid loss of body heat.
- Increased risk of certain cancers, stroke, and liver diseases (e.g., cirrhosis), particularly when excessive amounts of alcohol are consumed over extended periods of time.
- Damage to a developing fetus if consumed by pregnant women.
- Increased risk of motor-vehicle traffic crashes, violence, and other injuries.
Coma and death can occur if alcohol is consumed rapidly and in large amounts.
How do I know if I have a drinking problem?
Drinking is a problem if it causes trouble in your relationships, in school, in social activities, or in how you think and feel. If you are concerned that either you or someone in your family might have a drinking problem, consult your personal health care provider.
What can I do if I or someone I know has a drinking problem?
Consult your personal health care provider if you feel you or someone you know has a drinking problem. Other resources include the National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service available at 1-800-662-HELP. This service can provide you with information about treatment programs in your local community and allow you to speak with someone about alcohol problems.
What health problems are associated with excessive alcohol use?
Excessive drinking both in the form of heavy drinking or binge drinking, is associated with numerous health problems, including—
- Chronic diseases such as liver cirrhosis (damage to liver cells); pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas); various cancers, including liver, mouth, throat, larynx (the voice box), and esophagus; high blood pressure; and psychological disorders.
- Unintentional injuries, such as motor-vehicle traffic crashes, falls, drowning, burns and firearm injuries.
- Violence, such as child maltreatment, homicide, and suicide.
- Harm to a developing fetus if a woman drinks while pregnant, such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
- Alcohol abuse or dependence.
I’m young. Is drinking bad for my health?
Yes. Studies have shown that alcohol use by youth and young adults increases the risk of both fatal and nonfatal injuries. Research has also shown that youth who use alcohol before age 15 are six times more likely to become alcohol dependent than adults who begin drinking at age 21. Other consequences of youth alcohol use include increased risky sexual behaviors, poor school performance, and increased risk of suicide and homicide.
Is it okay to drink when pregnant?
No. There is no safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy. Women who are pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant should refrain from drinking alcohol. Several conditions, including Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, have been linked to alcohol use during pregnancy. Women of child bearing age should also avoid binge drinking to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy and potential exposure of a developing fetus to alcohol.
*Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Methamphetamine (meth), a powerfully addictive stimulant, can be easily produced in illicit, makeshift laboratories and generally is considered the fastest-growing illicit drug in the United States. Aside from the inherent physical and physiological dangers of the drug itself, persons in and around meth laboratories can be acutely exposed to hazardous substances used in meth production. Exposure to these substances can occur from volatile air emissions, spills, fires, and explosions.
Opioids are a class of drugs used to reduce pain.
Prescription opioids can be prescribed by doctors to treat moderate to severe pain, but can also have serious risks and side effects.
Common types are oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine, and methadone.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever. It is many times more powerful than other opioids and is approved for treating severe pain, typically advanced cancer pain.1 Illegally made and distributed fentanyl has been on the rise in several states.
Heroin is an illegal opioid. Heroin use has increased across the U.S. among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels.2
The number of drug overdose deaths has never been higher, and the majority of these deaths (more than six out of ten in 2015) involved opioids.2
It is important to reduce exposure to opioids and prevent abuse, while also providing treatment and preventing overdose death.
Commonly Used Terms
Opioid use disorder
A problematic pattern of opioid use that causes clinically significant impairment or distress. A diagnosis is based on specific criteria such as unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control use, as well as use resulting in social problems and a failure to fulfill obligations at work, school, or home. Opioid use disorder has also been referred to as “opioid abuse or dependence” or “opioid addiction.”
Adaptation to a drug that produces symptoms of withdrawal when the drug is stopped.
Reduced response to a drug with repeated use.
The use of prescription drugs without a prescription, or in a manner other than as directed by the prescriber.
Injury to the body that happens when a drug is taken in excessive amounts. An overdose can be fatal or nonfatal.
Medication-assisted Treatment (MAT)
Treatment for opioid use disorder combining the use of medications (methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone) with counseling and behavioral therapies.
*Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Tobacco & Smoking
Smoking leads to disease and disability and harms nearly every organ of the body.
- More than 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking.
- For every person who dies because of smoking, at least 30 people live with a serious smoking-related illness.
- Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
- Smoking also increases risk for tuberculosis, certain eye diseases, and problems of the immune system, including rheumatoid arthritis.
- Smoking is a known cause of erectile dysfunction in males.
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death.
- Worldwide, tobacco use causes nearly 6 million deaths per year, and current trends show that tobacco use will cause more than 8 million deaths annually by 2030.
- Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, including more than 41,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. This is about one in five deaths annually, or 1,300 deaths every day.
- On average, smokers die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.
- If smoking continues at the current rate among U.S. youth, 5.6 million of today’s Americans younger than 18 years of age are expected to die prematurely from a smoking-related illness. This represents about one in every 13 Americans aged 17 years or younger who are alive today.
Costs and Expenditures
The tobacco industry spends billions of dollars each year on cigarette advertising and promotions.
- In 2014, more than $9 billion was spent on advertising and promotion of cigarettes—nearly $25 million every day, and about $1 million every hour.
- Price discounts account for nearly 80% of all cigarette marketing. These are discounts paid to cigarette retailers or wholesalers in order to reduce the price of cigarettes to consumers.
Smoking costs the United States billions of dollars each year.
- Total economic cost of smoking is more than $300 billion a year, including
- Nearly $170 billion in direct medical care for adults
- More than $156 billion in lost productivity due to premature death and exposure to secondhand smoke
State spending on tobacco prevention and control does not meet CDC-recommended levels.
- States have billions of dollars from tobacco taxes and tobacco industry legal settlements to prevent and control tobacco use. However, states currently use a very small amount of these funds for tobacco control programs.
- In fiscal year 2017, states will collect $26.6 billion from tobacco taxes and legal settlements but will only spend $491.6 million—less than 2%—on prevention and cessation programs.
- Currently, only two states (Alaska and North Dakota) fund tobacco control programs at CDC’s “recommended” level. Only one other state (Oklahoma) provides even half the recommended funding. Two states (Connecticut and New Jersey) have allocated no state funds for tobacco use prevention.
- Spending less than 13% (i.e., $3.3 billion) of the $26.6 billion would fund every state tobacco control program at CDC-recommended levels.
Cigarette Smoking in the US
Percentage of U.S. adults aged 18 years or older who were current cigarette smokers in 2015:
- 15.1% of all adults (36.5 million people): 16.7% of males, 13.6% of females
- Nearly 22 of every 100 non-Hispanic American Indians/Alaska Natives (21.9%)
- About 20 of every 100 non-Hispanic multiple race individuals (20.2%)
- Nearly 17 of every 100 non-Hispanic Blacks (16.7%)
- Nearly 17 of every 100 non-Hispanic Whites (16.6%)
- About 10 of every 100 Hispanics (10.1%)
- 7 of every 100 non-Hispanic Asians (7.0%)
Note: Current cigarette smokers are defined as persons who reported smoking at least 100 cigarettes during their lifetime and who, at the time they participated in a survey about this topic, reported smoking every day or some days.
Thousands of young people start smoking cigarettes every day.
- Each day, more than 3,200 people younger than 18 years of age smoke their first cigarette.
- Each day, an estimated 2,100 youth and young adults who have been occasional smokers become daily cigarette smokers.
Many adult cigarette smokers want to quit smoking.
- In 2011:
- Nearly 7 in 10 (68.9%) adult cigarette smokers wanted to stop smoking.
- More than 4 in 10 (42.7%) adult cigarette smokers had made a quit attempt in the past year.
- Approximately 100,000 U.S. smokers are expected to stay quit for good as a result of the 2012 Tips From Former Smokers campaign.9
Note: “Made a quit attempt” refers to smokers who reported that they stopped smoking for more than 1 day in the past 12 months because they were trying to quit smoking. See CDC’s Quitting Smoking fact sheet for more information.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Addiction Services Council
- Mental health access point
- Hamilton County Mental Health and Recovery Service Board