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Is there a function to check whether an attachment ID (=get_post_thumbnail_id(..)) is associated with more than one post?

With "associated" I mean that a posts's meta value for the meta_key _thumbnail_id equals the attachment ID.

I know that get_post_meta() returns an empty array if it does not find anything, but I would have to somehow loop over all posts.

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you can use following way

$attachment_id = 5; //put here you attachment id
$sql = "SELECT count(DISTINCT pm.post_id) FROM $wpdb->postmeta pm JOIN $wpdb->posts p ON (p.ID = pm.post_id) WHERE pm.meta_key = '_thumbnail_id' AND pm.meta_value = '$attachment_id' AND p.post_type = 'post' AND p.post_status = 'publish'";
$count = $wpdb->get_var($sql);
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