Alcohol use is often a tricky topic for a lot of people. We don’t look at alcohol the same way we look at “harder” or “more dangerous” drugs such as cocaine, heroin, or even marijuana. After all, alcohol is legal and you can get it from your grocery store. Plus alcohol use is very common with a 2012 survey showing that about 87% of people over the age of 18 years old had consumed alcohol at some point in their life. After all, we drink to socialize, to relax, and to celebrate. Let’s face it: alcohol is all around us.
Though many of us can control our alcohol intake and not suffer any serious consequences, there are also many individuals that are unable to do so. For such individuals struggling with an alcohol use disorder (or “alcoholism”), the impact can be devastating and effect their health, mood, ability to work, and relationships with all those around them. In such cases, the end result can often be the same or even worse than someone using one of those “more dangerous” drugs.
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism, then you know how scary a disease this can be. Luckily, our understanding of the disease has greatly improved over the past few decades and often seeking out information can be the first step to asking for help. Here’s some background to get you started!
Alcoholism Is A Disease
For those struggling with alcoholism, it is not as simple as it being a choice to continue drinking. Those who drink are not suffering from a “lack of willpower”. Alcohol impacts the entire individual from their body to their mind to their spirit. Like any disease, the course of alcoholism is often “waxing” and “waning” meaning there are times when the disease is “worse” and times when the disease is under better control. Luckily there are treatments to help you!
There Are “Levels” of Drinking
Research has shown that people who drink moderately or at “low risk” levels may be less likely to experience an alcohol use disorder. These low risk drinking levels vary by men and women and are as follows:
- Men: No more than 4 drinks on any single day AND no more than 14 drinks per week.
- Women: No more than 3 drinks on any single day AND no more than 7 drinks per week.
To stay at low risk for an alcohol use disorder, you must stay within both the daily AND weekly limits.
Heavy or “At Risk” Drinking Levels for a generally healthy adult means consuming more than either the daily or weekly limits listed above. About 1 in 4 individuals drinking at this level already meets criteria for an alcohol use disorder.
What is a Standard Drink?
People are often surprised to find out what counts as a “standard” drink. The amount of liquid in your can, bottle, or glass doesn’t always necessarily reflect how much alcohol is actually in your beverage.
In the USA, a “standard” drink contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol which equals:
- 12 ounces of regular beer (5% alcohol by volume)
- 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol by volume)
- 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (ie, vodka) (40% alcohol by volume)
Alcohol Can Have Serious Harmful Effects on Your Health
Drinking too much either over time or on a single occasion can take a serious toll on your health. Here are some ways alcohol can affect your body:
- Brain: Alcohol impairs your brain’s ability to “talk” to other parts of your brain and to the rest of your body. As a result, alcohol can have negative impacts on your mood, behavior, coordination, and ability to carry out many movements. Also alcohol can cause physical damage to parts of your brain over time.
- Heart: Drinking heavily can cause damage to your heart in the form of high blood pressure, strokes, arrhythmias (irregular heart beats), and cardiomyopathy (a disease of the heart that makes it too big and unable to pump blood or expand effectively).
- Liver: Since the liver breaks down alcohol and all its toxic by-products, drinking too much can cause liver damage ranging from a fatty liver all the way to hepatitis and cirrhosis.
- Cancer: Drinking too much puts one at higher risk of developing certain cancers such as cancers of the mouth, esophagus, liver, and breast.
Signs of Alcohol Dependence
Alcohol Dependence or “alcoholism” is the most severe form of an alcohol use disorder and has symptoms such as:
- Tolerance: The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to achieve the same effect
- Dependence: Experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety when stopping drinking
- Craving: A strong urge or need to drink
- Loss of Control: An inability to stop or moderate drinking once you’ve begun
People who struggle with alcoholism often find themselves thinking constantly of when they will be able to get their next drink or spending a great deal of time recovering from drinking. These individuals also often find that their social, professional, and school lives are seriously negatively impacted.
There is Help Available!
Despite the seriousness of the disease and the fact that an alcoholic can often feel helpless, there are numerous forms of treatment and support available ranging from engagement in Alcoholics Anonymous to medications to reduce cravings to therapies to help one remain sober.
If you would like to consult with one of our psychiatrists about alcoholism, please give us a call at 919-636-5240 option #1 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.