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How is alcohol abused?

Alcohol use involves drinking beer, wine or hard liquor – it’s one of the most widely used substances in the world. But alcohol conumption is healthiest when we drink in moderation. This means not drinking more than one drink per day for women, and not more than two drinks daily for men.

When is the line crossed from moderate or social use to problem drinking? When do problems with alcohol consumption start? What are the possible consequences? We review here. Then, we invite your questions about alcohol addiction and its treatment at the end.

Is alcohol healthy?

The health benefits of alcohol consumption have been confirmed by numerous well-designed studies, which have concluded that moderate drinking is associated with improved cardiovascular health, particularly with coronary artery disease. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has reported that moderate drinkers have the greatest longevity in terms of life span. The organization also found that moderate drinking is beneficial to heart health, resulting in a sharp decrease in heart disease risk of 40%-60%. Furthermore, The Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association reported that thee lowest mortality occurs in those who consume one or two drinks per day. So while moderate drinking can aid health…what happens when we over drink? And what does it mean to abuse alcohol?

Can alcohol be abused?

Yes, alcohol can be abused. In fact, it is abused any time we do not drink in moderation. Moderate drinking is defined as not getting intoxicated or drunk when consuming alcohol.

A drink is defined as:

  • 12 oz of beer
  • 5 oz of wine
  • 1 and a half oz of liquor

Moderate drinking = 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men.

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Heavy drinking = drinking 5 or more drinks on the same occasion on each of 5 or more days in the past 30 days.

Binge drinking = a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This usually occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men in about 2 hours.

So, in other words, we abuse alcohol when we drink to get drunk or for some kind of psychoactive effect. But the line between moderate use and abuse can easily be crossed. This is why and how alcoholism can sneak up on you, especially if you consume alcohol to cope with difficulties or to avoid feeling bad.

How alcohol is abused

Alcohol abuse means drinking excessively and more than recommended. And while there is a difference between physical and mental addiction to alcohol, problem drinking can require intervention.  Some of the signs that may indicate someone is abusing alcohol include:

  • being ashamed of drinking and feeling guilty
  • drinking more than intended on regular basis
  • drinking to relax and feel better
  • experiencing alcohol side effects of dependence, such as withdrawal
  • facing legal and financial problems because of drinking
  • have friends and family who express their concerns about your drinking
  • having “black outs” and memory gaps while drinking
  • lying and hiding the drinking habits
  • neglecting school, work and family because of drinking
  • trying to quit drinking but not succeeding

Alcohol abuse side effects

We have already noted the possible benefits from moderate alcohol consumption. However, abusing alcohol can cause many health problems. Here is a list of alcohol abuse sideeffects associated with long-term alcohol abuse and binge drinking:

1. Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, causing cognitive, motor, mood and behavior changes.

2. Long-term drinking or occasional, high quantity drinking can damage the heart, causing cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, stroke, high blood pressure.

3. Heavy drinking takes its toll on the liver. It can lead to a number of liver problems and inflammations, such as fatty liver (steatosis), alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, cirrhosis.

4. Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually cause pancreatitis, and lead to digestion problems.

5. Alcohol consumption may lower the risk of cancer in moderate drinkers, but drinking too much can actually increase the risk of developing mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, breast cancer.

6. Drinking can weaken the immune system, making a person more prone to contracting diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis.

7. In pregnant women, drinking alcohol can lead to severe birth defects in the baby, also called fetal alcohol syndrome.

Signs of alcohol abuse

Alcoholism and alcohol abuse can affect all aspects of one’s life. And it’s a well known fact that alcoholics are usually in denial about having a drinking problem. Here is what’s usually going through an alcoholics mind:

THOUGHT: “I can stop whenever I want to”

REALITY: This phrase helps them feel in control of their drinking habits, but it’s actually an excuse to keep consuming alcohol. In fact, it’s more likely that problem drinkers cannot stop, or that they don’t even want to stop. Someone with a drinking problem may not be able to stop drinking for 30 days, an excellent window to ask someone to test their psychological dependency on alcohol.

THOUGHT: “My drinking is no one else’s business. If I’m the one it’s hurting, it’s my problem.”

REALITY: It’s not true that heavy alcohol consumption hurts only the drinker. Family, friends and loved ones are all affected by a person’s alcoholism. Your alcohol abuse is their problem too.

THOUGHT: “I don’t drink every day! I only drink beer and wine!”

REALITY: Regardless of what, how much or how often one drinks, if it’s causing life problems and disturbances, then it’s a drinking problem.

THOUGHT: “I have a family, a job…I’m OK”

REALITY: Functional alcoholics are out there; these are people who are able to keep their job and provide for their families. Still, alcohol abuse take it’s toll on one’s health, career, and interpersonal relationships over time.

THOUGHT: “Alcohol is not a drug, so it’s not a ‘real’ addiction”

REALITY: When stopping drinking, alcoholics experience withdrawal symptoms, just like illicit drug and prescription drug users do. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms and their treatment can be serious, and even life threatening. Plus, alcohol abuse causes changes in the brain and body, so alcoholism is as damaging as drug addiction.

Questions about alcohol abuse

Do you still have questions or comments about alcohol problems? Please leave them in the comments section below. We do our best to respond to all legitimate queries with a personal and prompt response.

Reference sources: NIAAA: Drinking levels defined
MedlinePlus: Health risks of alcohol use
MedlinePlus: Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
NIAAA: Health Risks and Benefits of Alcohol Consumption
NIAAA: Alcohol’s Effects on the Body

Photo credit: Kimery Davis

Leave a Reply

One Response to “How is alcohol abused?
Joe D.
7:26 pm September 10th, 2014

Alcohol is so prevalent and consumption is socially acceptable in our society, making it hard to pinpoint whether you or someone you know actually has a problem. It can be easy to underestimate how much one actually drinks.
The serving sizes of cocktails and wine at restaurants can be double an actual serving size, so become familiar with the proper serving sizes so you can adequately assess your own consumption.

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