Alcohol is legal, easy to obtain, fairly inexpensive, and, in most cases, socially acceptable. Surveys have indicated that as many as 87.6 percent of Americans aged 18 or older have consumed alcohol at some point in their lives.1 As many as 52.2 percent of Americans over the age of 11 have consumed alcohol more than once.2
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that slows respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature, while it stimulates dopamine, or “happy cell,” production. In short, alcohol can cause a temporary sense of relaxation, which often encourages drinkers to keep drinking.
“The first person who handed me the joint and the beer thought he was doing me a favor. What happened was in no way his fault,” writes David L. at Heroes In Recovery. In fact, if he had known the devastation that this was to wreak on my life, he would have slapped them out of my hands! I often wonder… if I had known… would I have turned away the offer? Or, being young, would I have been sure that “it couldn’t happen to me” and tried it anyway?
“That doesn’t really matter now — it is what it is. I believe that I am a better person for having walked through the fire of addiction, and am grateful that this journey only took me 10 years. Many people are trapped in their active addictions for much longer!”
Alcohol is the third-leading cause of death in the United States, and 5.9 percent of all deaths globally are related to alcohol consumption.3Alcohol abuse costs the United States approximately $223.5 billion per year in lost workplace production, health care costs, and criminal justice costs.4
Alcohol is absorbed into the body through the stomach and small intestine, and it is metabolized in the liver. Alcohol affects each person based on amount consumed, age, weight, gender, metabolism, ethnicity, family history, and genetics, how much food you ate beforehand, and how fast you drank. Heavy drinking can lead to an increased alcohol tolerance, meaning that it will take regular heavy drinkers longer to feel intoxicated.
Drinking any amount can be extremely dangerous for people that are under the legal drinking age, pregnant women, recovering alcoholics, people taking prescription drugs, any anyone who may operate machinery or drive a car should never drink.
Binge drinking occurs when a man drinks more than five drinks in a sitting or a woman drinks more than four. When a man drinks more than 15 drinks per week or a woman drinks more than eight per week, a drinking problem is likely present.6 Patterns of binge and heavy drinking can increase all potential risk factors and side effects that come with consuming alcohol.
Accidents, Injuries, and Violence Related to Alcohol Use
Alcohol can produce mind-altering effects quickly, decreasing inhibitions and heightening the odds of engaging in risky behavior. It increases the likelihood of making poor decisions that may result in injury, embarrassment, or regret.
While alcohol impairs judgment, it also affects motor control and balance, while causing blurred or double vision, slurred speech, drowsiness, nausea, and shallow breathing. Accidents and injuries are common when alcohol is involved. One in three young adults aged 18-24 who enter emergency rooms for major injuries are intoxicated at the time of injury.7
Driving under the influence of alcohol is particularly dangerous. Over 10,000 U.S traffic fatalities are caused by intoxicated drivers each year.8That breaks down to one alcohol-impaired driving fatality every 48 minutes.
Alcohol is considered a contributing factor in 40 percent of all violent crimes, including simple and aggravated assault, rape, and robberies, and 40 percent of the convicted murderers being held in prison or jail may have been under the influence of alcohol at the time they committed the homicide.9
Workplace accidents and workplace violence also increase when alcohol is present. Alcohol can decrease productivity, lower morale, result in over-tiredness, and increased alcohol-related absences, injuries, and fatalities.
Alcohol poisoning occurs when a person ingests alcohol faster than the body and liver can break it down, creating a toxic buildup in the bloodstream. Alcohol poisoning is often the result of binge drinking in a short period of time. Six people die from alcohol poisoning every day in America.10
Signs of alcohol poisoning include:
- Shallow or labored breathing
- Blue skin color due to hypothermia or low body temperature
- Extreme drowsiness
- Loss of consciousness or coma
- Severely slurred speech
- Loss of coordination
- Irregular heart rate
Alcohol slows down vital life functions, and an overdose (alcohol poisoning) may reduce breathing, heart rate, and body temperature to dangerously low levels, resulting in respiratory failure or stroke. Alcohol poisoning also suppresses the body’s gag reflex and could lead the individual to choke to death on his or her own vomit. If you suspect alcohol poisoning, seek immediate medical assistance.
Dangers of Long-Term Alcohol Abuse
Chronic alcohol abuse can create a host of problems and increase the odds of certain types of cancer, including throat, liver, mouth, breast, and esophageal cancers. Patterns of heavy drinking may cause scarring and cirrhosis of the liver, as well as inflammation of the pancreas, which can lead to digestive distress. Stroke, heart disease, and high blood pressure may also be side effects of chronic alcohol abuse. Alcohol also affects the immune system and may make the drinker susceptible to viruses or pneumonia.
Alcohol disrupts the reward pathways and interferes with natural brain functions, affecting moods, emotions, and cognitive abilities. Over time, a person who drinks alcohol often can develop both a physical and a mental dependence to alcohol that keeps the cycle going.
- An inability to completely to stop drinking
- Drinking more or for longer than intended
- Cravings to drink and obtain alcohol
- Withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities
- Requiring bigger amounts of alcoholin order to become intoxicated
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when drinking is discontinued
- Experiencing negative effects at home, school, or work.
Most people who have engaged in binge drinking have suffered short-term effects of a hangover: headache, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, difficulty sleeping, or trouble concentrating. People who suffer from alcohol use disorder, however, often experience prolonged and severe withdrawal symptoms. Anxiety, depression, and irritability are common during alcohol withdrawal when a serious problem is present.
A more severe form of alcohol withdrawal known as delirium tremens may occur if you stop drinking “cold turkey,”. Delirium tremens can be potentially fatal and may include seizures, fever, hallucinations, agitation, and severe confusion.11
Alcohol consumption can lower coping skills and increase the effects of mental illness. Alcohol can make any or all mental health disorders worse. Suicidal thoughts and tendencies may also increase due to alcohol abuse and dependency.
You can recover from an alcohol use disorder with the right comprehensive treatment. Black Bear Lodge offers evidence-based treatment that targets both the physical and mental effects of alcoholism. Our clients benefit from a holistic approach that helps both individual and family. Call us now at 706-914-2327 to learn more.
1 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Facts and Statistics. Jun 2017. Web. Retrieved Oct 10, 2017.
2 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings. 2014. Web. Retrieved Oct 10, 2017.
3 World Health Organization. Alcohol. Jan 2015. Web. Retrieved Oct 10, 2017.
4 U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Fact Sheets – Alcohol Use and Your Health. Oct 2016. Web. Retrieved Oct 10, 2017.
5 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Dec 2010. Web. Retrieved Oct 10, 2017.
6 U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Frequently Asked Questions. Oct 2016. Web. Retrieved Oct 10, 2017.
7 UC Davis Health System. Myths and Facts about Teens and Alcohol. 2017. Web. Retrieved Oct 10, 2017.
8 National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Alcohol-Impaired Driving. 2009. Web. Retrieved Oct 10, 2017.
9 National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Alcohol, Drugs, and Crime. 27 June 2015. Web. Retrieved Oct 10, 2017.
10 Christensen, J. Alcohol poisoning kills 6 people a day. CNN. 7 Jan 2015. Web. Retrieved Oct 10, 2017.
11 Longo, D. Recognition and Management of Withdrawal Delirium (Delirium Tremens). The New England Journal of Medicine. 2014. Web. Retrieved Oct 10, 2017.
12 Jacob, M. Alcohol and Depression. Psych Central. 2016. Web. Retrieved Oct 10, 2017.