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How Alcohol Can Affect Your Life

For most people, alcohol is a pleasant accompaniment to social activities. Moderate alcohol use—up to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women and older people (a standard drink is one 12-ounce bottle of beer or wine cooler, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits) — is not harmful for most adults. Nonetheless, a substantial number of people have serious trouble with their drinking. Currently, nearly 14 million Americans—1 in every 13 adults—abuse alcohol or are alcoholic. Several million more adults engage in risky drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems. In addition, approximately 53 percent of men and women in the United States report that one or more of their close relatives has a drinking problem.

The consequences of alcohol misuse are serious—in many cases, life-threatening. Heavy drinking can increase the risk for certain cancers, especially those of the liver, esophagus, throat, and larynx (voice box). It can also cause liver cirrhosis, immune system problems, brain damage, and harm to the fetus during pregnancy. In addition, drinking increases the risk of death from automobile crashes, recreational accidents, and on-the-job accidents and also increases the likelihood of homicide and suicide. In purely economic terms, alcohol-related problems cost society approximately $100 billion per year. In human terms, the costs are incalculable.

Alcoholism has little to do with what kind of alcohol one drinks, how long one has been drinking, or even exactly how much alcohol one consumes. But it has a great deal to do with a person’s uncontrollable need for alcohol. This description of alcoholism helps us understand why most alcoholics can’t just “use a little willpower” to stop drinking. He or she is frequently in the grip of a powerful craving for alcohol, a need that can feel as strong as the need for food or water. While some people are able to recover without help, the majority of alcoholic individuals need outside assistance to recover from their disease. With support and treatment, many individuals are able to stop drinking and rebuild their lives.

Why Drinking Excessively is Dangerous

Ethyl alcohol or ethanol is the type of alcohol that is found in alcoholic beverages. Ethyl alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that affects regions in the brain that control behavior, so naturally people feel more outgoing and talkative. But, if a person continues to drink, the alcohol will slow the responses of the brain and nervous system, which could lead to sleep or unconsciousness. Unlike other tablet-form drugs, alcohol is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Typically, a drink will reach the bloodstream within 15 minutes of consumption and peak in 30 minutes or so. The rate of alcohol consumption depends on how strong the drink is, if there is food in the stomach, and the person’s weight, size, sex, age, race, and family history.

Alcohol is a drug and it is addictive. If you drink too much, your body will build up tolerance, and you will have to drink more and more alcohol to get drunk or intoxicated. If a person suddenly stops drinking, he or she can suffer from withdrawal. Heavy drinking affects almost every system in the body including the nervous, digestive, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and endocrine systems.

The Risks and Complications

  • Liver Disease
  • Cardiovascular System
  • Cancer
  • Brain Damage
  • Vitamin Deficiencies
  • Digestive Problems
  • Reproductive/Sexual Dysfunction
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
  • Higher Mortality
  • Withdrawal Dangers

How Common is Alcoholism?

Alcohol dependence and abuse are among the most common mental disorders. The recent National Comorbidity Survey says that 23.5% of Americans may become dependent or abuse alcohol sometime in their lives. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 10 million adults and 3 million children are alcoholics. The first episode of alcohol intoxication usually occurs in the early to mid-teens and alcohol dependence usually peaks between the ages of 20 to mid-30s. Alcoholic dependence often follows family patterns. The risk is 3 to 4 times higher for someone to develop alcohol dependence if he or she has close relatives who are alcohol dependent.

Alcohol and drug addiction is a disease that progresses through predictable stages. It takes a trained health professional, often a doctor specializing in addiction medicine, to make an accurate diagnosis and prescribe the most appropriate treatment.

Centers should offer a variety of treatment programs that meet individual needs. Programs may include inpatient, residential, outpatient, and/or short-stay options.

The difference between inpatient and residential treatment is that inpatient services are provided by a licensed hospital, while residential programs usually do not meet the same rigorous standards of medical care.

The length of stay depends on the severity and stage of the disease.

Treatment Can and Does Work

Extensive data document that drug addiction treatment is as effective as treatments for most other similarly chronic medical conditions. Because of such obstacles to the right facts as personal denial and incorrect information issued by the press, thousands of people are getting misinformation instead of the help they need.

In spite of sound evidence that establishes the effectiveness of professional drug abuse treatment; many people still believe that treatment will be ineffective. Distrusting treatment can also stem from unrealistic expectations. Many people equate addiction with simply using drugs and so they expect a quick cure–and if it is not cured quickly, they think treatment is a failure.

Addiction is more than an uncontrollable desire for substances; it is an underlying behavior pattern with deeply emotional roots. Successful treatment requires digging down and revealing the long-ingrained pattern at the root level. What’s often revealed is behavior born of anger, helplessness, and shame, compounded by intense desires for immediate escape from these unsettling feelings. Because addiction is a chronic disorder, the ultimate goal of successful, long-term abstinence often requires dedication to sustained and repeated treatment.