Many people drink alcohol in moderation without experiencing problems. They know their limit and stop when they’ve had enough. They drink in a safe environment at socially appropriate times when it will not get in the way of work or personal obligations.
Moderate alcohol consumption is not considered to be alcohol abuse. The trouble starts when alcohol use interferes with an individual’s ability to live a normal life. Alcohol abuse is essentially defined as drinking too much and too often.
This can be difficult to measure, as alcohol affects people differently depending on their body mass index, age, tolerance level, and gender. Generally, moderate drinking is two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. A single drink is five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of liquor.
Anything over this amount may impair someone’s judgment, memory, and coordination to the extent that they cannot perform tasks like making responsible decisions, working or driving.
An individual may be struggling with alcohol abuse if they:
- spend a lot of time drinking or recovering from alcohol
- use alcohol regardless of negative effects on their relationships
- miss obligations like work, school or social functions because of alcohol
- engage in dangerous behavior while drinking
- binge drink (four drinks for a woman or five drinks for a man in two hours)
- continue drinking despite health problems or pregnancy
Alcohol abuse like binge drinking may be socially acceptable in certain groups. This is especially true among teens and young adults. However, there is a thin line between having fun and having a dangerous and unhealthy lifestyle.
Often, alcohol abuse begins as a way to deal with stress. While some people can have a single glass of wine at the end of a long day to relax, others consume much more and may turn to alcohol any time they feel the slightest stress. Prolonged alcohol abuse can lead to many negative physical and mental consequences, including dependence and addiction.
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The Dangers Of Alcohol Abuse
Dangerous behavior like drunk driving, unsafe sex and aggression that may accompany alcohol abuse can pose a significant risk to the intoxicated individual as well as to those around them.
Long-term alcohol abuse can also harm the body and mind, as alcohol causes dehydration, vitamin deficiencies and may contribute to poor nutrition. Without adequate water and a healthy diet, a person may suffer from dry skin and inflammation, which can lead to other problems like migraines, muscle tension, and arthritis.
Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) often occurs with heavy long-term alcohol consumption. As the liver tries to process so much alcohol, it develops scar tissue. The more scar tissue there is, the harder it is for the liver to function normally.
Alcohol abuse can lead to hypertension (high blood pressure), which is the cause of many heart problems. Excessive alcohol use can also cause an irregular heart rate, heart attacks and congestive heart failure (difficulty pumping blood).
Alcohol poisoning is a serious condition which can occur if someone consumes too much alcohol at once. It can result in slowed breathing, low body temperature, coma, and death.
A person may blackout if they drink too much and not remember what happened while they were intoxicated. Prolonged alcohol abuse can have long-term effects on memory as well, and may make it harder for someone to form new memories in the future.
Alcohol causes certain brain chemicals to be more active, and the brain becomes dependent on alcohol to feel good rather than naturally relieving stress. This can result in worsened depression and anxiety, which often causes people to drink more.
Taking other drugs along with alcohol (polysubstance abuse) increases the risk of overdose. Central nervous system depressants like heroin and prescription opioids are very dangerous to mix with alcohol because the combination of substances can cause severe respiratory depression that may be fatal.
With regular drinking over time, the body requires more alcohol to feel the same effects. If a person is consuming alcohol frequently enough to develop a tolerance, they may be at risk of becoming dependent or addicted.
Signs Of Alcohol Dependence
When a person is dependent on alcohol, they experience physical withdrawal if they stop drinking. Symptoms of this uncomfortable process may be shakiness, difficulty sleeping, nausea, sweating, fever, seizures or hallucinations. Alcohol withdrawal can also cause delirium tremens, a condition marked by tremors, anxiety, and disorientation.
Once physical dependence develops, the body needs alcohol to function normally. Because of this, the withdrawal process can be dangerous and it is difficult for an individual to go through alone. An individual suffering from alcohol dependence is likely to be addicted to alcohol as well.
Signs Of Alcohol Addiction
Addiction is a chronic mental disease in which a person cannot control their drinking. They consume more alcohol than planned. Even if they want to cut back or stop drinking, they cannot. Their brain craves alcohol to feel good or even to feel normal. They continue drinking despite negative consequences like health problems, job loss, and deteriorating relationships.
A person who is struggling with alcohol addiction may put alcohol above anything else in their life. They may act secretive if they are trying to hide the addiction, but often the signs are obvious. Slurred speech, frequent hangovers, financial strain, and social isolation can all be signs of alcohol addiction.
Treatment For Alcohol Abuse And Addiction
Most treatment programs for alcohol addiction begin with detoxification to rid the body of alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol dependence may be life-threatening. Medically monitored detox programs keep an eye on someone’s vital signs while they go through withdrawal to ensure their safety.
Once the alcohol is out of someone’s system and withdrawal symptoms are alleviated, the physical desire for alcohol may be manageable. Treatment for addiction is very difficult when the body is telling the individual to consume alcohol. Once the physical dependence is overcome, a person has more control over their mind and can focus on healing.
Inpatient rehab programs provide a therapeutic community away from everyday life. This can be incredibly beneficial since the home environment often supports alcohol abuse in some way. Inpatient treatment plans may be individualized and combine therapies like art, recreation, nutrition and counseling for a well-balanced approach to recovery.
At Vertava Health, we aim to prevent relapse by healing the whole person. To learn more about alcohol abuse, addiction, and treatment options, contact one of our specialists today.