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Alcoholic beverages are frequently considered one of life’s pleasures, and there are now some studies which support that moderate consumption of alcohol can have health benefits. However, the use of alcohol can have negative consequences as well. 

Studies show that 29% of active duty firefighters have experienced possible or probable problems with alcohol use (Boxer and Wild, 1993).

At this point, studies cannot conclude a great deal about what causes someone to go from acceptable and appropriate alcohol use to abuse and/or dependence. However, abuse and dependence are both fairly common among American and Canadian firefighters. In order to further educate people about alcohol abuse, both the United States and Canada have government-funded research organizations to study the problems of alcohol abuse and dependence. These agencies have developed estimates of drinking statistics in the US and Canada. For instance:

  • 9% of US adults report at least one alcoholic beverage per month
  • 1 in 3 adult drinkers report past-month binge drinking, where a binge is defined as 5 or more drinks in one drinking occasion
  • Binge drinkers are 14 times more likely to drink and drive
  • Approximately 6% of Americans report heavy drinking. Prevalence is higher for men (7.1%) than women (4.5%).
  • Studies of firefighters show that 29% of active duty firefighters have possible or probable problems with alcohol use.
  • 50% of the firefighters surveyed in Oklahoma City had a prior history of alcohol problems

The consequences of alcohol and drug misuse can be extremely costly and painful. The following statistics illustrate these costs.

Alcohol is the third leading cause of death in the US.

  • 41% of all traffic related deaths are alcohol related.
  • 31% of those who die from unintentional, non-traffic injuries in the US are intoxicated at the time of death.
  • 40% of all crimes are committed under the influence of alcohol.
  • 66% of victims of partner violence acknowledge that alcohol was involved in the incident.
  • 50% of child abuse and neglect cases are linked with parental alcohol and drug abuse.
  • 23% of suicides are attributable to alcohol.
  • 40% of deaths from unspecified liver disease are attributable to heavy alcohol consumption.
  • The risk of cancer increases with the amount of alcohol consumed.


As the list of consequences show, alcohol and drug abuse are not problems that are confined to the user; in fact, the people most effected by alcohol and drug problems may be those close to, or dependent on, the user (e. g., family, friends and coworkers).

Thus, people who have crossed over into health risk from their alcohol and or drug misuse should know that lots of help is available, and the variety of effective help is increasing every year.

Firefighters who want to learn more about the types of help available can find excellent web resources at the National Institute of Health

Defining the Problem

Alcohol users frequently have a difficult time knowing if their use has crossed the line and become a health risk. Therefore, the following definition and resources may be useful:

Heavy drinking is defined as the daily drinking of more than one alcoholic beverage for women and more than two alcoholic beverages for men.

Alcohol dependence requires having three or more of the following symptoms in the past year (DSM-IV, 1994):

  • Tolerance (needing more alcohol to become intoxicated)
  • Alcohol use for periods longer than intended.
  • Considerable time spent in obtaining or using alcohol, or recovering from its effects.
  • Use resulting in failure to fulfill major work, school or home obligations.
  • Recurrent use in situations in which it is hazardous.
  • Recurrent alcohol related legal problems.
  • The discontinuation or loss of important social, work, or recreational activities because of alcohol use.
  • Continued use despite knowledge of problems caused by or aggravated by use.

More information is available at the following links:

Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Website