What Is the Scope of Alcohol Addiction in America?

Depressed man in a hospital

New data released by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism highlights the scope of alcohol misuse and harm, showing that the issue is far more severe than previously thought.

The NIAAA’s 2023 Report: Alcohol Use, Addiction, Harm, and Treatment

In the first report of its kind to be released since before the pandemic, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism published updated findings on the scope of alcohol use, misuse, addiction, and harm in the United States. The following are 12 crucial facts about the scope of alcohol addiction and related harm in the U.S.:

About 219 million Americans say they consume alcohol, representing about 78% of the population over 12. About 84% of people over 18 say they consume alcohol. Both figures reflect slight increases in the alcohol-consuming population.

At least 60 million Americans say they drink to excess on at least a monthly basis. That figure represents 21% of the American population over 12, and about 23%—almost one in four—Americans over 18 say they misuse alcohol at least once per month.

drunk person

At least 16 million Americans engage in heavy alcohol use. That figure represents 5% of the American population over 12. The NIAAA defines heavy alcohol use as consuming more than four drinks per day or more than 14 per week. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines it as drinking to excess on five or more days in any given month.

The NIAAA reports that approximately six million Americans between the ages of 12 and 20 (underage individuals) consume alcohol at least once per month. That figure represents about 15% of the 12 to 20 age group. At least 613,000 underage Americans drink to excess (binge drink) at least once per month.

The reports suggest that there is cause for alarm regarding underage alcohol consumption. Data shows that alcohol use during the teenage years can interfere with normal adolescent brain development and can prime the user for alcohol addiction. Further, underage drinking contributes to many acute consequences for youths, such as injuries, sexual assaults, alcohol overdoses, and even deaths. Notably, 1,412 underage Americans die each year from drunk driving, 1,121 from alcohol-related homicides, 190 from alcohol overdose, falls, burns, and drowning, and 718 from alcohol-related suicides.

Reports suggest that at least 29.5 million Americans over 12 meet the criteria for alcohol addiction, an alarming increase from the 15 million who met those criteria in 2019. The figure represents about 10% of the population that is over 12.

While almost thirty million Americans suffer from alcohol addiction, only about one million receive treatment each year, with the number of new addicts rapidly outpacing the number of addicts who receive treatment. Throughout their lifetime, fewer than one in ten alcohol addicts will ever receive treatment for their addiction.

Alcohol consumption and misuse harm the human body, producing a long list of life-altering and potentially fatal health conditions. About 100,530 liver disease deaths occur annually, almost half of which can be attributed to alcohol. Further, people who misuse alcohol have a greater risk of heart disease, depression, stroke, stomach bleeding, and cancers of the oral cavity, esophagus, larynx, pharynx, liver, colon, and colon rectum. Such individuals are also more likely to struggle with diabetes, high blood pressure, pain, and sleep disorders.

Alcohol misuse is damaging not just to individuals but to their loved ones too. More than 10% of U.S. children grow up in a home where at least one parent misuses alcohol, an increase from 2019. This is especially concerning given that young people who grow up in homes where alcohol abuse occurs are more likely to become addicted later in life.

Critical care

Alcohol abuse is also a leading cause of death in the United States. In 2019, the NIAAA reported that alcohol abuse caused about 90,000 deaths. But now, at the least, an estimated 140,000 Americans are dying each year from alcohol, which would be the equivalent of the country losing an entire American city each year.

Before addicts face a fatal alcohol event, they will almost always experience near-death alcohol-related emergencies. The rate of all alcohol-related emergency department visits increased by 47.0%, with almost one in five of all ER visits being related to alcohol.

Lastly, alcohol addiction strains the United States as a nation. This extremely expensive public health crisis affects all Americans, even those who are not addicted and who do not have addicted family members. According to the NIAAA, Americans spend about $249 billion each year addressing the consequences of alcohol abuse.

The Solution to Alcohol Addiction is Treatment

Virtually every metric by which alcohol abuse and alcohol-related harm is measured has increased since the last NIAAA report in 2019. From alcohol-related illness to injury, death, economic cost, and harm to others, the United States is drinking more and becoming more addicted to alcohol.

The above data points may paint a grim picture for our future, but there is a solution to alcohol addiction. Qualified residential treatment centers can help those who are addicted to alcohol address and overcome both the physical and psychological aspects of the addiction. If you know someone who consumes alcohol and who cannot control their drinking or stop of their own volition, please help them enter a rehab center as soon as possible. Please don’t wait until it is too late.


  • NIAAA. “Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023. niaaa.nih.gov



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.