Despite its legality, alcohol can have devastating consequences for people who consume too much or have become addicted to it. Here you will find answers to many frequently asked questions, statistics on alcohol abuse, symptoms and treatment options.
How Do You Know if Your Loved One Has an Alcohol Problem?
Alcohol use is a legal and in many circles, an accepted, part of adulthood. It’s often difficult to determine when drinking has crossed over the line from something enjoyable to a more serious issue. If a loved one is confronted about alcohol use, they are more likely to respond with denials and rationalizations than to admit they may have a problem. Here are some signs your loved one may have an alcohol addiction.
A person doesn’t have to have all of these signs to indicate a problem. The more signs that someone has, the more likely it is that drinking is affecting their everyday life and they should seek professional help.
1. Lying About When and How Often they Drink
Someone who hides the amount they are drinking or drinks in secret may say that they are trying to avoid being bothered about it by others. In reality, they are in denial about their drinking problem.
2. Inability to Control their Alcohol Use
A person who always has to keep drinking until all the beer in the house is gone or must finish a bottle of wine once it has been open has a problem. They can’t stop drinking once they start.
3. Developing Increasing Tolerance for Alcohol
When it takes more drinks in order for someone to feel a “buzz” from alcohol or they can drink more than they used to in order to get drunk, it’s a strong sign of alcoholism. At that point, the person’s body has been exposed to alcohol enough times that it has adapted so that it can cope with the presence of alcohol more readily.
4. Experiencing Withdrawal Symptoms when Going Without a Drink
These symptoms are not the same as having a hangover. Withdrawal symptoms include feeling anxious, depressed, irritable, nauseous or tired during times of not drinking. Other withdrawal symptoms include shakiness or trembling, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping.
5. Inability to Stop Drinking
When someone realizes that their drinking has become a problem for them and has tried to stop but can’t quit, there is a strong possibility that they are struggling with alcohol addiction.
If you are concerned about a loved one’s drinking, approach them at a time when they are likely to be sober and not hung over. Tell them that you care about them and are concerned for their health and welfare. Share specific examples of what you have noticed. Offer to make an appointment for your loved one to see a doctor (and to go along, if necessary). You can also go online to start researching alcohol treatment facilities to learn about your options.
What are the Effects of Alcohol on the Body?
Too much alcohol can be disastrous to the body’s organs and overall health. While drinking alcohol in moderation is not a problem, drinking in excess can increase your risk for a variety of problems. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol can cause these destructive issues:
Brain: When it comes to the brain, alcohol interferes with the communication pathways, and affects the way the brain works and even the way it looks. These disruptions in the brain can alter mood and behavior, often making it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.
Heart: Drinking in excess over a long time or too much on a single binge can damage the heart, causing problems that may include:
- Cardiomyopathy – Stretching and drooping of heart muscle
- Arrhythmias – Irregular heart beat
- Stroke-medical emergency in which the brain is deprived of oxygen and nutrients
- High blood pressure
- Research also illustrates that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may actually protect healthy adults from developing coronary heart disease. This benefit of alcohol can be reversed with excessive drinking.
Liver: Heavy drinking also takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a range of complications and liver inflammations including:
- Steatosis, or fatty liver
- Alcoholic hepatitis-liver inflammation
- Fibrosis-scarring of liver tissue
- Cirrhosis-increased scarring of the tissue preventing the liver from doing its job in the body
Pancreas: Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.
Cancer: Drinking too much alcohol can also lead to the development of certain cancers, including cancers of the:
Immune System: Drinking too much has been shown to weaken the body’s immune system, making your body much more susceptible to disease. Chronic drinkers are actually more prone to catch diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink in excess. Studies have shown that consuming large amounts of alcohol on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.
These outcomes are dependent on various different factors including how much an individual drinks, how often, age, health status and family history.
Alcohol Abuse Statistics
Alcohol use in today’s society is quite prevalent. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 86.4 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime, 70.1 percent reported that they drank in the past year and 56.0 percent reported that they drank in the past month. In the same survey, nearly 27 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they have engaged in binge drinking in the past month and 7 percent reported that they engaged in heavy alcohol use in the past month. The NIAAA defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. In a 2 hour period this typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men. The 2015 survey also provides a breakdown of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD):
Adults (ages 18+): 15.1 million adults ages 18 and older had AUD. This includes 9.8 million and 5.3 million women.
About 6.7 percent of adults who had AUD in the past year received treatment. That includes roughly 7 percent of males and 5 percent of females with AUD in this age group.5
Youth (ages 12–17): An estimated 623,000 adolescents ages 12–17 had AUD. This number includes 298,000 males and 325,000 females.
About 5.2 percent of youth who had AUD in the past year received treatment. This includes 5.1 percent of males and 5.3 percent of females with AUD in this age group.
What are Some Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?
The more an individual drinks, the more dependent the body becomes on alcohol. When the body is deprived of alcohol, a person will begin to feel withdrawal symptoms that can be very difficult to overcome. The American Addiction Centers breaks down alcohol withdrawal into three stages:
Stage 1: Individuals experience anxiety, insomnia, nausea and abdominal pain. This typically begins 8 hours after the last drink.
Stage 2: This stage is characterized by high blood pressure, increased body temperature, irregular heart rate and confusion. This takes place 24-72 hours after the last drink.
Stage 3: The last stage can include hallucinations, a fever, agitation and even seizures that may begin 72 hour after the last drink.
Fortunately, there is an end to these withdrawal symptoms usually within 5-7 days.
What are Some Treatments for Alcohol Abuse?
Detox is the first step in the treatment of alcohol abuse. It is very important for medical professionals to closely monitor individuals who are detoxing to control the physical symptoms. This is most often done via medical detox, which may use medications to treat the physical symptoms like nausea, dehydration, seizures, and insomnia. Benzodiazepines are commonly used during alcohol detox to reduce some of the potential over-activity the central nervous system may undergo as it attempts to return to its natural state without alcohol. Blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and body temperature should all be closely monitored in a medical detox center, and steps should be taken to ensure that these vitals remain at safe levels.
After a period of stabilization and possibly a short- or long-term residential rehabilitation program, people with a history of alcohol abuse or addiction are advised to continue with outpatient treatment services when they return home. This helps provide transitional treatment and recovery support while returning to family, work, school or other routine practices in life that had the previous triggers present. Learning to deal with life’s difficulties and cope are necessary skills for lasting sobriety.
Alcohol has an undeniable presence in our society today. But when consumed in excess, it can not only ruin the lives of those drinking, but it can also have an effect on loved ones and even unknowing strangers. Alcohol abuse has many harsh effects on the body, but with proper treatment, care and support, they can be managed and some even reversed.
Alcohol is the most abused drug in the United States. Currently about half of the adult population reports drinking alcohol on a regular basis, with roughly 20 million of those people falling into the category of alcohol addiction. Perhaps the biggest reason that alcohol is so widely abused is that it is socially acceptable and legal to consume to those over the age of 21. Because so many people consume alcoholic beverages it can be hard to determine if someone is abusing alcohol and what to do to help them.
The most common way to abuse alcohol is to participate in binge drinking. Binge drinking occurs when someone consumes a large amount of alcohol in a short amount of time. By participating in binge drinking the person often elevates their blood alcohol content to .08% or greater. Teenagers are notorious for binge drinking – this is the most common way for them to consume alcohol. Reports indicate that 23% of people that drink participate in binge drinking. Binge drinking is dangerous because the amount of alcohol being entered into the body can lead to overdose, alcohol poisoning and/or blackouts. Incidentally, because teenagers are the largest group that participates in binge drinking they are also the biggest high-risk group. Binge drinkers are most likely to get behind the wheel; it has been found that binge drinkers are 14 times more likely to drive while intoxicated.
Underage drinking is a problem that law enforcement and policy makers have been struggling with for decades. 81.4% of people that have consumed alcohol admit that they were under the age of 21 at the time of first consumption. Underage drinking has become such a problem that every year at least 5,000 people under the age of 21 die from alcohol-related causes. Alcohol-related causes would include; car crashes, suicides, homicides, alcohol poisoning and other accidents like drowning or house fires.
For those suffering from an alcohol addiction it is vital to seek professional help. The withdrawal symptoms from alcohol can be dangerous and need to be monitored by a physician. Some symptoms that are likely to occur when coming off of alcohol include; tremors, insomnia, intense cravings, nausea, headaches and confusion. In extreme cases a person might also experience visual and/or auditory hallucinations. It is important to note that in order to successfully withdrawal from alcohol it is vital to pair the detox with some sort of treatment. The medical community recommends that those suffering from an alcohol addiction check into long-term, inpatient treatment to address their dependence on alcohol.