Alcohol is rarely viewed as a drug substance, and even less frequently viewed as a dangerous drug substance, when in actual fact it is one of the most dangerous drug substances currently in use. Moderate amounts of certain types of alcohol, like wine, are sometimes recommended by medical professionals as helpful to an individual’s overall health. Individuals who consume alcohol in a manner that they consider to be moderate may even argue that they will not suffer from the same problems that chronic alcoholics suffer from, as they are in control of their alcohol consumption and never imbibe more than is safe. However, the problem with this assumption is that the individual fails to recognize the simple fact that alcoholics probably once had the same thoughts about their alcohol consumption, and few individuals actually know how alcohol affects the human body and therefore how much is too much.
Alcohol Abuse and Addiction in the United States
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s 2012 report on alcohol abuse and addiction outlined the current state of alcohol abuse and addiction problems in the United States:
– Eighty-seven percent of surveyed individuals eighteen and older reported they drank alcohol at least once in their life
– Seventy-one percent of surveyed individuals reported they drank alcohol at least once in the past year
– Fifty-six percent of surveyed individuals reported they drank alcohol at least once in the past month.
– Twenty-four percent of surveyed individuals reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the month prior to the survey.
– Seven percent of surveyed individuals reported that they engaged in heavy drinking in the month prior to the survey.
– Roughly seventeen million Americans have what is called alcohol use disorder – harmful drinking that has not yet reached the level of dependence and addiction, while only fifteen percent of these individuals seek treatment.
– Nearly eighty-five thousand people die each year from alcohol-related causes, including drunken driving and alcohol poisoning.
– Alcohol problems cost the United States approximately $224 billion every year in lost work productivity, health care and property damage.
– Approximately ten percent of all American children live with a parent who has an alcohol problem.
– Nearly two thousand college students between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four die every year from alcohol-related causes, including motor vehicle accidents in which they are an innocent victim.
– Nearly seven hundred thousand college students between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four are assaulted by an alcohol-abusing fellow student.
– Ninety-seven thousand college students between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault.
– Roughly nine million individuals between the ages of twelve and twenty reported they had consumed alcohol in the month prior to the survey.
These statistics help shed light on the fact that alcohol consumption is neither safe nor limited, and it is cause for concern.
Measuring the Dangers of Alcohol Consumption
For some individuals, any alcohol consumption at all can be extremely dangerous and even potentially fatal. For most individuals, however, there are three basic levels of alcohol consumption:
- Moderate drinking. This is normally considered low risk alcohol consumption, and some individuals have safely participated in moderate drinking for years without experiencing tolerance, dependence, addiction or even any significant side-effects. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines moderate alcohol consumption as no more than four alcoholic drinks in one day or fourteen alcoholic drinks in one week for men, and no more than three alcoholic drinks in one day or seven alcoholic drinks in one week for women. What few people understand is that both of these parameters must be met, as they help determine the rate at which the liver can safely metabolize alcohol toxins and flush them from the human body. A man who consumes six alcoholic drinks in a single sitting is not participating in moderate drinking, even if he had not consumed any alcohol for the prior month, he is participating in binge drinking, which is far more dangerous. Moderate drinkers can further lessen their risk of experiencing dangerous side effects by drinking slowly and consuming plenty of nutritious food while drinking.
- Binge drinking. This is relatively risky alcohol consumption as the individual consumes high levels of alcohol in a short period of time, pushing their blood alcohol concentration to or over 0.08g/dl. Some individuals are under the impression that consuming more alcohol at one time is fine, as long as they don’t do this frequently. This is entirely untrue and can lead to many dangerous results, including serious and permanent damage to the liver and other body organs.
- Heavy drinking. This is very high risk alcohol consumption, and consists of routinely consuming more alcoholic beverages per day and per week than is recommended. The individual’s liver and other body organs and systems can quickly deteriorate as a result of constant alcohol consumption, leading to serious health risks as well as dependence and addiction problems.
An alcoholic drink is based not on volume, but rather on alcohol content. Regular beer is normally five percent alcohol content, while wine is normally twelve percent alcohol content and distilled spirits are normally forty percent alcohol content. One standard drink is normally about fourteen grams of alcohol, which equates to about twelve ounces of regular beer, five ounces of wine or one and a half ounces of distilled spirits.
How Alcohol Affects the Brain and Body
While many individuals consume alcohol for its initial stimulating effects, alcohol is actually a sedative drug substance. Once absorbed into the bloodstream, alcohol makes its way to the brain where it slows the functioning of nerve cells. Many individuals who imbibe even a moderate amount of alcohol may exhibit slurred speech, unsteady movement, reduced perceptions and inhibited reaction times as a result of this drug’s sedating effects.
Over time, regular alcohol use can cause the body to develop a tolerance to the drug. This means that the individual no longer experiences the same effects as a result of the same amount of alcohol consumption. The individual often chooses to handle this problem by consuming larger doses of alcohol, which can move them from moderate drinking into binge drinking. As alcohol use continues, the brain and body change their normal functions and become dependent upon the drug. The individual who experiences alcohol dependence often finds that they no longer have any control over their alcohol use, and is driven by powerful cravings and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms to continue using this drug, despite experiencing destructive consequences.
Some of the other effects of alcohol abuse and addiction include:
- Changing the way the brain looks and works. The individual may experience changes in their mood and behavior and find it difficult to think clearly or experience coordinated movement.
- Stretching and drooping of the heart muscle, irregular heartbeat, stroke, high blood pressure and coronary heart disease.
- Fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis and cirrhosis. The liver’s job is to clean impurities and toxins from the blood, but regular alcohol consumption can overwhelm the liver, damaging it and leaving alcohol toxins in the bloodstream.
- Inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas.
Weakening of the immune system, which opens the door to serious illness and disease.
- Cancers of the mouth, esophagus, throat, liver and breast.
Withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, trembling, sweating, nausea and vomiting, insomnia, depression, irritability, fatigue, loss of appetite, headaches, hallucinations, confusion, seizures, fever and agitation.
Treating Alcohol Addiction
The goal of alcohol rehabilitation treatment is to aid the individual in restoring their ability to live a healthy, productive life without alcohol use. Regardless of the individual’s needs and the design of a specific facility and program, some of the most important components to a successful alcohol rehabilitation program include:
Withdrawing from alcohol use can be a very difficult, uncomfortable and sometimes even dangerous process. A detoxification program that helps the individual come off alcohol use as gently and comfortably as is possible is very important. It is also critical that such a program be medically supervised since alcohol withdrawal has been known to result in seizures, hallucinations, delirium tremens and in some extreme cases, death.
Individuals who have been using alcohol in order to suppress unwanted sensations in their life need help in discovering why they turned to alcohol and how they can handle life problems without alcohol.
3. Life skills
Life skills education can help an individual learn how to rearrange their life so that they are not in a situation where alcohol use is accepted or likely. Life skills courses can also help an individual learn how to solve life problems without alcohol.
4. Aftercare treatment
Achieving a successful recovery from alcohol use is often a difficult process, but it alone does not guarantee ongoing sobriety. An individual needs to receive further support, whether this includes further counseling, meetings for individuals recovering from alcohol abuse and alcoholism, like Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, or other continuing care.
Alcohol addiction problems can be difficult to address and resolve, but they can be effectively and fully resolved if the individual receives the right support, encouragement and rehabilitation treatment. The individual’s own discipline and dedication to recovery can go a long way in ensuring their success.