Alcohol, Not Opioids, is America’s Most Abused Substance

By Lawrence Weinstein M.D. | Published 4/23/2019 2

table with many wine glasses 2500 x 1668

Photo source: Terje Sollie from Pexels

The ongoing opioid crisis continues to rage across America. So, it makes sense that a lot of attention is rightfully being focused on the scourge of heroin, fentanyl, and abuse of prescription drugs. But the most abused dangerous substance is one many Americans have in their homes and can easily, and legally, access – alcohol.

What do the data show?

American Addiction Centers (AAC) released new data that shows this devastating trend. Admissions for alcohol abuse at AAC continue to increase over time, from 39.1% of total admissions in 2014 to 53.1% in 2018. Conversely, opioid admissions started to decline in 2016, from 39.9% of total admissions in 2016 to 29.1% in 2018.

Alcohol Opioid admissions graph 650 x 375

Graphic source: supplied by author

While deaths by opioids dominate recent national headlines, this disturbing data is a stark reminder that it’s not just drug overdoses that are destroying lives and families.

A drug of choice

Alcohol use by gender graphic 350 x 306

Graphic source: Supplied by author

Our study also found that alcohol was the primary drug of choice for both men (66.5%) and women (33.5%) who have received treatment at AAC facilities. And, the proportion of alcohol admissions to total admissions was similar between men and women (approximately 47%).

About two-thirds of admissions for alcohol alone were male. And alcohol was the number one reason people over the age of 35 sought treatment from AAC. The average age at admission was 42 years old.

Alcohol admissions by substance and age graphic 572 x 397

Photo source: supplied by author

A public health crisis

Alcohol addiction is becoming a public health crisis. To help us acknowledge and prevent this trend, it is important that these statistics must be shared more openly.

Unlike other highly addictive substances, alcohol is normalized in society. Its use is widely accepted. This makes it harder for people to take its misuse as seriously as other addictions.

With Alcohol Awareness Month upon us, there’s an opportunity to refocus on this particular addiction, its causes, effective treatment, and recovery.

Here’s how to help

  • Offer support to loved ones

It’s hard for anyone suffering from this condition to admit they have a problem.

When you notice someone you care about may be struggling with alcoholism, get them the professional help in the relevant type of program: 

      • Medically supervised detox
      • A comprehensive rehabilitation program 
      • Ongoing therapy to maintain sobriety

        Related story: Why Seek Professional Help for Alcohol Addiction?

They should never take detox into their own hands as it can be a dangerous and life-threatening process. Because of the severity of risks associated with detox, it’s critical to seek medical and professional help prior to starting treatment.

The road to recovery can be difficult – for everyone involved. But it also can mean the difference between life and death.

  • Take a whole person approach

Treatment providers should approach every individual struggling with alcohol addiction as a whole person. One who is not only suffering from an illness but who is also full of unique strengths and potential.

We must understand that for many, addiction is not their only struggle. Treatment for co-occurring mental illnesses should be the rule, not the exception.

       Related story: 5 Ways Drugs and Alcohol Affect Your Mental Health

Holistic care should be expanded to address physical, spiritual, social and occupational needs.

  • Spread the word

“Help for Today, Hope for Tomorrow” is this year’s Alcohol Awareness Month theme. To help those struggling today, we must implement these recommendations and more if there is any hope to save lives tomorrow and in years to come.

Related story: What to Look for in a Quality Sober Living Home

The bottom line

Although it’s not nearly as headline-grabbing as the opioid crisis, alcohol abuse in America has reached the level of a public health crisis. We can’t focus all of our attention on ending the opioid crisis without considering treatment for the drug that can be bought at the local grocery store.

Lawrence Weinstein M.D.


Dr. Lawrence Weinstein was appointed Chief Medical Officer of American Addiction Centers in 2018. In his career spanning more than 20 years, Dr. Weinstein has extensive experience in senior leadership having worked for some of the largest healthcare companies in the country. His past work in psychotherapeutic services, family therapy, psychoanalysis and addiction psychiatry make him a uniquely well-rounded physician executive. Throughout his career, Dr. Weinstein has set the standard for clinical and operational excellence, physician management and driving technology solutions that support clinical innovation. He brings this experience and an unwavering commitment to patient care to his role as AAC’s chief medical officer, where he oversees medical operations for all facilities and supervises the medical staff to ensure the highest quality of care.


  • While alcohol may be consumed regularly by ‘non-addicted individuals’, such as those who habitually have a beer with a scotch chaser (‘just a little’) in the late afternoon before dinner, but you did not mention any general physical health concerns such as alcohols implication in causing cancer?
    I have read several accounts about alcohol contributing to the genetic changes in rDNA that may result in some cancer growth such as breast and lung cancers? How legitimate are these claims and what solid research is being done to answer these questions? And if they are true, why are they not being promoted more vigorously to the public? Might there be a large invested lobby interest that is encouraging not making such results more prominent?

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