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Alcohol Addiction and Abuse

Alcohol usage is widespread and, unfortunately, is often abused. Alcohol has an addictive nature and is relatively easy to acquire, both of which increase the substance’s problematic nature.

  • Prevalence of Drinking in Individuals 18 Years or Older
    • 6% drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime
    • 5% drank alcohol in the past year
    • 9% drank alcohol in the past month
  • Prevalence of Binge Drinking and Heavy Alcohol Use in Individuals 18 Years or Older
    • 8% engaged in binge drinking in the past month
    • 3% committed in heavy alcohol use (more than five sessions of binge drinking within a single month) in the past month
  • Prevalence of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
    • More than 14 million adults with AUD
    • More than 400,000 youths with AUD[i]

Effects of Alcohol Usage

Alcohol usage and its effects are not always straight-forward. Many effects can be seen immediately, while others may not be immediately visible or evident. In total, the effects of alcohol may include the following:

  • Shrinking brain
  • Blackouts
  • Dependence
  • Heart Damage
  • Liver Damage
  • Pancreatitis
  • Frequent Diarrhea
  • Infertility
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Malnutrition
  • Diabetes Complications
  • Numbness
  • Behavior Changes
  • Hallucinations
  • Slurred Speech
  • Cancer
  • Lung Infections
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach Distress
  • Birth Defects
  • Thinning Bones
  • Changes in Coordination
  • Muscle Cramps[i]

Short-term Effects of Alcohol

The short-term effects of alcohol are the ones that most people are familiar with since they are immediately evident. These usually include lowered inhibitions, trouble concentrating, loss of coordination and critical judgment, dulled perception, mood swings, reduced body temperature, raised blood pressure, passing out, and vomiting.[iii] The occurrence of these symptoms depends on numerous factors, including usage within a single session, bodyweight, age, gender, and current health. The symptoms above may be experienced even in those who do not regularly use alcohol if too much is consumed within a single drinking session.

Long-term Effects of Alcohol

The long-term effects of alcohol usage are sometimes more difficult to trace directly but are evident upon further investigation. These effects can include memory and attention span loss, difficulty learning, alcoholic hepatitis, liver fibrosis, steatosis, various forms of cancer, high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy, stroke, and irregular heartbeat.[iv] These effects may also vary depending on the individual. Individuals who have been drinking for many years and drink heavily will often have increased chances for these long-term effects.

Different Forms of Alcohol and Their Abuse

Not all forms of alcohol are equal, and different forms present different risks and challenges. Beer, wine, and liquor each have different alcohol concentrations and often affect other populations of people. A helpful way of comparing various forms of alcohol is through the metric of a “standard drink.” The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism have given the following definition and comparison:

  • 12 fluid ounces of regular beer (5% alcohol)
  • 8-9 fluid ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol)
  • Five fluid ounces of table wine (12% alcohol)
  • Five fluid ounces of distilled spirits (40% alcohol)[v]

Each of the above would be considered a standard drink and is roughly equal to the others. The critical thing to remember is the percent of alcohol that is in each drink. Because this percentage is different in different beverages, one has to look beyond merely how many drinks or how many ounces one has had. A little bit of liquor is worth a lot of beer in the amount of alcohol it contains. Using the above comparison, 12 ounces of beer is approximately one standard drink, but 12 ounces of distilled spirits or liquor is about four standard drinks.

This is also helpful for those who do not drink, as this can provide a framework for determining how much their loved ones have been drinking. By understanding the standard drink, individuals can have better estimations of how much someone is drinking. This knowledge will help determine if there might be a problem or Alcohol Use Disorder that needs to be addressed.

Binge Drinking

Another sign of a potential Alcohol Use Disorder is binge drinking. Binge drinking is a common form of excessive alcohol use, but also the deadliest. Binge drinking occurs when one’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) has been increased to 0.08 g/dl or higher. As a general estimate, this threshold will be reached somewhere around five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women over two hours.[vi] It is essential to realize that binge drinking does not necessarily mean one has an Alcohol Use Disorder, but it is a sign. A binge-drinking pattern can be extremely problematic and may indicate that it is time to get help.

High-Functioning Alcoholics

High-functioning alcoholism is a deceptive form of alcoholism as it often goes undetected. In some cases of alcoholic addiction, individuals can still maintain their work and family lives for a sustained period. In this way, what is a problem that may often be hidden for a while? In many cases, the individuals themselves may not even realize they have a problem or not realize how significant a problem is. Unfortunately, it is often through the consequences of alcoholism being displayed dramatically that the problem is revealed. At this point, the results are significantly worse than they might have been had the problem been addressed earlier in the addiction. Thus, it is crucial to be aware of the nature of alcoholism and addiction and realize that even if an alcoholic is functioning normally right now, it does not mean that problems are absent.

Alcohol and Other Drugs

Because alcohol is a depressant (that is, it suppresses or reduces the central nervous system’s functions, slowing the messages between the brain and the body)[vii], it can often cause complications to use alcohol with other drugs. This is especially the case with other drugs in the same class of depressants, such as benzodiazepines and painkillers. Since alcohol also reduces inhibitions, many individuals are also more susceptible to drug users when they have been drinking. It is advised to always check for possible complications between alcohol and any prescribed drugs an individual uses.

Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

Once it has been realized or even suspected that there is a problem, it is vitally important to seek treatment. Alcohol is an extremely addictive substance but also readily available. This means it is important to seek additional help for recovery. Cycles of Change Recovery offers various programs[viii] designed to meet individuals at different places in their journey to recovery. Changing the patterns of addiction and substance abuse is a rewarding but challenging process. No one needs to attempt a recovery by themselves. Cycles of Change Recovery has an expert team of addiction treatment specialists prepared to come alongside anyone struggling with addiction and substance abuse.

Sources:

  1. [i] National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” NIH. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics.
  2. [ii] Ann Pietrangelo. “The Effects of Alcohol on Your Body.” Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/alcohol/effects-on-body.
  3. [iii] Nicolle Monico. “Effects of Alcohol on the Body & Mind.” American Addiction Centers. https://www.alcohol.org/effects/.
  4. [iv] Ibid.
  5. [v] National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “What Is A Standard Drink?” NIH. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/what-standard-drink.
  6. [vi] Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Binge Drinking.” CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm
  7. [vii] Alcohol and Drug Foundation. “Depressants.” ADF. https://adf.org.au/drug-facts/depressants/
  8. [viii] https://cyclesofchangerecovery.com/programs/