Happy hour… sporting events… birthday parties… a promotion at work. For many, alcohol has become synonymous with social occasions and celebrations. There’s nothing wrong with drinking alcohol in moderation; however, if you consume this drug to cope with difficulties or avoid negative feelings, you may be crossing the line into a dark place. It can be hard to recognize when your drinking has gone from social to problematic. Because the effects of alcohol vary so widely, it’s important to recognize how this drug affects you as an individual.
Alcohol abuse is the consumption of alcoholic beverages in excess, either on various occasions (binge drinking) or on a regular basis. For children and pregnant women, almost any amount of alcohol may be legally considered alcohol abuse. What’s the difference between alcohol abuse and alcoholism? Alcohol abuse means the drinker does not suffer withdrawal symptoms or crave increasing amounts of the drug to achieve intoxication, whereas this is not the case with alcoholics.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking, a form of alcohol abuse, is a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. This excessive alcohol intake is more common among young adults ages 18 to 29. People who binge drink can go for periods of time without a drink, but when they do start drinking again, it is in large quantities. For men, this is five or more drinks in approximately a two-hour period. For women it’s four or more drinks.
While binge drinkers do lose control when they drink, this behavior is not categorized the same way as alcoholism. While binge drinking can lead to alcoholism, binge drinkers are not alcohol dependent; however, they can still suffer from acute and chronic effects. Acute effects include accidents, unsafe sexual activity, and short-term health issues such as hangovers and stomach problems. The chronic effects consist of more serious/life-threatening health issues such as pancreatitis or alcohol liver disease, relationship and work problems, accidents, and breaking drinking and driving laws. Nearly 40% of all traffic-related deaths are related to alcohol.
Common signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse:
• Repeatedly neglecting responsibilities at home, work, or school
• Using alcohol in situations where it’s physically dangerous (driving, mixing with medications)
• Experiencing repeated legal problems because of your drinking
• Continuing to drink even though your alcohol use is causing your relationships to suffer
• Drinking as a way to relax or de-stress after any situation
Effects of alcohol abuse
Alcohol abuse affects all aspects of your life. Problematic drinking damages your emotional stability, finances and career. Employees who have problems with alcohol produce at least 10% less work then their coworkers. The abuse is devastating to the user’s family and friends as well; it can hinder your ability to build and maintain satisfying relationships. Alcohol-abuse effects also target the entire body including poor coordination, thiamine deficiency, poor nutrition, hypertension and irregular heartbeats, impotence and irregular menses, gastrointestinal issues, stroke, confusion, and amnesia. Women may develop alcohol-related health problems sooner than men and from drinking less alcohol than men.
Is there a safe level of drinking?
Alcohol doesn’t always have to be harmful. In fact, in moderation, alcohol can provide some health benefits. A glass of red wine — no more than four to eight ounces — is rich in antioxidants and high levels of resveratrol, a plant phytoalexin linked to a decreased risk of breast and prostate cancer. Alcohol can also decrease your risk of heart disease, stroke and dementia. Consumed in low quantities, a drink can serve as a nice treat for both your body and your soul.
Your social drinking may be escalating to a more serious matter if you…
• Feel guilty or ashamed about your drinking
• Lie to others or hide your drinking habits
• Have friends or family members who are worried about your drinking
• Need to drink in order to relax or feel better
• “Black out” or forget what you did while you were drinking
• Regularly drink more than you intend
If any of these sound familiar, you may want to consider making a change. While around 30% of alcohol abusers (not severe alcoholics) are able to reduce their alcohol consumption or abstain completely from drinking without receiving professional assistance, there is nothing wrong with seeking help from an outside source. Regardless of which path you choose, acknowledging you have a problem with alcohol is the first step.