For most people, drinking alcohol is a pleasant social activity. However, approximately 1 out of every 13 people in the United States abuse alcohol, have alcohol dependency issues or are alcoholics. Alcohol abuse can lead to alcoholism or alcohol dependency. Alcohol abuse includes drinking too much at one time or continuing to binge drink regularly. Alcoholism is a chronic disorder marked by excessive and/or compulsive drinking leading to psychological addiction and physical dependence on alcohol. Most alcoholics continue to drink despite negative social consequences and adverse health issues.
Why do people drink? Some people use alcohol to relax, gain courage, achieve social acceptance or boost self esteem. Others use alcohol to escape depression, fear, anxiety, shame, stress, anger, boredom or other negative feelings. Some use alcohol to help them fall asleep or deliberately pass out. A “healthy” or acceptable amount of drinking is one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. The reason the limit is higher for men is due to higher body weight and a difference in the way men metabolize alcohol. One drink or a single serving of alcohol is considered to be 12-oz of beer, 5-oz of wine or 1.5-oz of 80 proof hard liquor.
Occasional consumption of alcohol is fine and can even be beneficial to your health. However, the consequences of alcoholism or alcohol abuse are serious. When drinking becomes excessive or interferes with other aspects of life, you need to assess the role of alcohol in your life.
Alcohol consumption immediately affects the central nervous system – compromising perception, emotions, vision, hearing and movement. People who drink too much alcohol may slur their speech, stagger, lose their coordination and/or become disoriented. Intoxication or drunkenness has different effects on different people: some people become chatty and excited while others become aggressive and belligerent. Certain people may appear to be sober despite consuming large amounts of alcohol, but the effects on their system are unavoidable. Imbibing too much alcohol dramatically reduces reflex time, weakens coordination and impairs judgment. Alcohol abuse and alcoholism increase the risk of death from automobile accidents, occupational accidents and recreational accidents. Alcohol abuse also carries an increased risk for homicide and suicide.
Alcoholism is a devastating disease. The disease is progressive and often fatal. Health issues associated with excessive drinking include cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease, nervous system disorders, GI problems, immune system issues, brain damage, pancreatitis, nutritional deficiencies, sexual problems, obesity and an increased risk for certain types of cancer. Alcohol abuse by pregnant women may have detrimental effects on their unborn children. Fetal alcohol syndrome is one of the leading causes of death and mental retardation in babies.
If you suspect you or a loved one has a problem with alcohol, look for the following signs:
- spending a lot of time drinking and/or thinking about drinking
- craving alcohol – a strong compulsion or need to drink
- cannot quit drinking or cannot control how much you drink
- drinking in the morning
- drinking alone
- hiding your drinking – this includes hiding alcohol bottles, “sneaking” drinks, buying alcohol from more than one store, drinking alone, lying about how much you drink, etc.
- blackouts – not remembering what you did while drinking
- a need to drink more to get the same effect
- drinking continues despite negative social consequences or adverse health issues
- exhibiting withdrawal symptoms when drinking stops including shakiness, sweating, nausea and anxiety
Alcoholism is tied to domestic abuse, ruined relationships, destroyed lives, a wide range of illnesses and avoidable fatalities. Don’t let alcohol ruin your life or the lives of others. Take control. If you or a loved one has a drinking problem, please get professional help.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
March of Dimes