Every April we bring to the surface health concerns that arise from heavy alcohol abuse. Excessive alcohol consumption affects many areas of the body including the brain, heart, liver, pancreas and immune system.
Alcohol Abuse 101
Why do people turn to drinking excessive amounts of alcohol? Often, it can stem from a traumatic experience, major health trauma, sadness, depression, nervousness or worry. Factors in your life such as a negative work environment or relationship can also lead to alcohol abuse.
Even responsible drinking patterns can have serious health effects like high blood pressure. Alcohol also affects thinking and judgment along with other cognitive skills. Long term, it can have a serious effect on your brain function, memory and behavioral patterns.
What is a "drink"?
In the United States, a standard drink contains 0.6 ounces (14.0 grams or 1.2 tablespoons) of pure alcohol. You would find this measure in:
- 12-ounces of beer (5% alcohol content).
- 8-ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content).
- 5-ounces of wine (12% alcohol content).
- 1.5-ounces of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor
Binge v. Heavy Drinking
- Binge drinking, the most common form of drinking, is defined as consuming
- For women, 4 or more drinks during a single occasion.
- For men, 5 or more drinks during a single occasion.
- Heavy drinking is defined as consuming
- For women, 8 or more drinks per week.
- For men, 15 or more drinks per week.
What is moderate drinking?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines moderate drinking as no more than 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men.
If you are of the following, experts say alcohol shouldn't be consumed at all:
- Pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
- Taking prescription or over-the-counter medications that may cause harmful reactions when mixed with alcohol.
- Younger than age 21.
- Recovering from alcoholism or are unable to control the amount they drink.
- Suffering from a medical condition that may be worsened by alcohol.
- Driving, planning to drive, or participating in other activities requiring skill, coordination, and alertness.
Alcohol Abuse Health Conditions
If alcohol is consumed on a regular basis, you may experience:
- Numbness or a painful feeling in your arms or legs
- Erectile dysfunction
- Leaking urine or having a hard time passing urine
- Bleeding from the stomach or esophagus
- Swelling and damage to the pancreas
- Damage to the liver
- Poor nutrition
Recently a study released from the American Institute for Cancer Research was the first to quantify that if an individual consumes 3 alcoholic drinks per day, they are likely to develop liver cancer. This is a breakthrough in research, as the link to alcohol and liver cancer hasn't been formally connected before.
- Globally, liver cancer kills 746K people
- In the US, almost 36,000 cases are diagnosed each year
- 95% of people diagnosed are 45 years or older
CIRRHOSIS OF THE LIVER — A sometimes-lethal condition in which the liver is so heavily scarred that it is unable to function.
CANCER — When the body converts alcohol into acetaldehyde, a potent carcinogen, cancer risks increase. Excessive amounts of alcohol have been linked to mouth, esophageal, liver, breast and colon cancer.
ANEMIA — lowers red blood cell count
HEART DISEASE — Heavy drinking, especially bingeing, makes platelets more likely to clump together into blood clots, which can lead to heart attack or stroke.
PANCREATITIS — Drinking inflames the pancreas. Chronic pancreatitis interferes with the digestive process, causing severe abdominal pain and persistent diarrhea.
DEMENTIA — As we age, our brains shrink. Alcohol abuse can speed up this process resulting in memory loss and other symptoms of dementia.
DEPRESSION — Many experts debate if alcohol abuse or depression comes first. Some studies show heavy drinking can lead to depression and vice-versa. We know for sure, they're linked.
GOUT — Alcohol abuse can aggravate existing cases of gout - a painful disease of the joints.
SEIZURES — Heavy drinking can cause epilepsy and trigger seizures even in those who don't suffer from epilepsy.
NERVE DAMAGE — Heavy drinking can cause a form of nerve damage known as alcoholic neuropathy, which can produce a pain and numbness in the muscles. It can also cause erectile dysfunction, incontinence and constipation.
INFECTIOUS DISEASE — Excessive amounts of alcohol can weaken the immune system, leaving the body most susceptible to infectious disease.
Help and Treatments for Alcohol Abuse
- First, ask yourself what type of drinker you are?
- Be aware of your drinking patterns. Learn ways to cut back on drinking.
- If you cannot control your drinking or if your drinking is becoming harmful to yourself or others, seek help from:
- Your doctor
- Support and self-help groups for people who have drinking problems
- Educate yourself and dive deeper into the causes and treatments for alcohol abuse through this informational database.
- Maintenance of sobriety
- Nutrition and diet
- Avoid people and places that make drinking the norm, and find new, non-drinking friends.
- Join a self-help group.
- Enlist the help of family and friends.
- Replace your negative dependence on alcohol with positive dependencies such as a new hobby or volunteer work with church or civic groups.
- Start exercising. Exercise releases chemicals in the brain that provide a "natural high." Even a walk after dinner can be tranquilizing.