Each year, Alcohol Awareness Month is held in April to help reduce the stigma that is so often associated with addiction by encouraging communities to share information about alcohol, alcoholism and recovery with the public. Not only is April an opportunity to learn about alcohol addiction, it’s also a time to help those suffering find recovery by being compassionate and understanding of their disease. In honor of this effort, Vertava Health shared facts pertaining to alcoholism and alcohol use throughout the month of April to educate others and reduce the stigma of addiction.
According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, one in every eight Americans is struggling with an alcohol use disorder. This staggering statistic means that almost 30 million people in the U.S. are unable to control their alcohol intake – a remarkable 50 percent increase from 2003. Those 65 years or older saw the largest increase in people struggling with an alcohol use disorder. As alcohol use disorders become increasingly prevalent in American society, it’s essential that the public learns to identify the signs of this debilitating disorder. Some red flags of an alcohol use disorder are:
- Drinking more than originally intended
- Craving alcohol
- Spending more time drinking than usual
- Abandoning responsibility to drink
- Blacking out or memory loss from drinking
- Drinking to help with anxiety or depression
- Continuing to drink even if it’s causing problems
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
Exhibiting any number of these symptoms is a sign that a person’s drinking habits are a cause for concern. [middle-callout]
As children move from adolescence to young adulthood, they begin to desire more independence from their parents and crave new freedoms. As a result, many adolescents start to experiment with alcohol. Most of the alcohol consumed by this age group is through binge drinking– a style of drinking where people consume large quantities of alcohol in a single session and in a short period of time. Binge drinking is typically done with the intent of getting drunk. Unfortunately, teens who participate in this behavior are six times more likely to develop alcohol dependence later in life. They’re also likely to experience the following repercussions of binge drinking:
- Trouble at school
- Legal problems
- Higher risk of suicide
- Changes in brain development
- Memory problems
- Alcohol poisoning
With such a strong correlation between binge drinking in early adulthood and the development of an alcohol dependency later in life, it’s important that teens and young adults understand just how quickly it could happen to them.
Alcohol addiction can put people at risk for a number of different health problems, including pancreatitis, brain damage and other substance addictions. According to the Center For Disease Control, alcohol addiction puts sufferers at a more significant risk for heroin addiction. Researchers theorize this has something to do with a person’s impaired logical reasoning skill while drinking. When under the influence of alcohol, a person’s judgment is severely impaired. This is especially true for those who struggle with controlling their alcohol intake daily. Unfortunately, when alcohol clouds the brain’s critical thinking skills, it often leads people to try things they wouldn’t do if they were sober, like trying heroin. In addition to being a cheap alternative to prescription opioids, heroin is one of the most deadly drugs on the market. It claimed almost 16,000 lives alone in 2015. The drug works quickly by attaching itself to opioid receptors on the brain and giving users a euphoric rush. This high is what brings people back to heroin again and again until they eventually develop a deep physical and mental dependency the drug.
With it being so readily available, it should come as no surprise that alcohol is among the most widely used drugs in the United States. There are a number of reasons that a person might turn to alcohol. Some of the most common problems that people use alcohol to cope with are:
- Sleep problems
Unfortunately, drinking to numb these uncomfortable feelings or underlying mental health issues is a behavior that has become all too common. While it’s estimated that 43 million Americans suffer from some form of mental illness, the majority of them do not receive treatment for their condition. However, about 50 percent of American adults suffering from a mental health issue do use a substance, like alcohol, to cope. Without proper alcohol treatment and medical intervention, a drinking problem can rapidly decline into alcoholism.
As the addiction epidemic continues to grow in the United States, more and more children are exposed to the horrors of alcoholism via their parents. It is currently estimated that as many as seven million children live in a household where at least one of their parents has a drinking problem. When a child lives in a household where they are witness to heavy alcohol use, they will likely suffer from some physical and emotional traumas due to their exposure to this lifestyle. These traumas can manifest themselves in the many ways, including:
- Low self-esteem
- General fearfulness
- Stomach problems
- Sleep problems
- Trouble concentrating
- Emotional detachment
- Feelings of shame and guilt
Any combination of these symptoms can appear in a child who is exposed to their parent’s alcohol addiction. Unfortunately, these children also have a higher likelihood of becoming addicted to alcohol themselves.
Teens and young adults start drinking for many reasons, including experimentation, social pressures and stress. However, they often give very little thought to the long-term effects of their drinking habits or if they’re putting themselves at risk for alcoholism in the future. Researchers believe that this correlation is partially caused by damage due to the developing brain. When people start drinking at a young age, it can negatively affect their brain. A study performed by a neuroscientist at the University of California found that teens who drink have damaged nerve tissue in the brain. For teens who engaged in binge drinking, the study also found a poor quality of the brain’s white matter resulting in ineffective communication between brain cells, and damage to the memory center of the brain. Binge drinking during adolescence can permanently change how the brain functions and these changes appear to be irreversible. The unfortunate outcome is that teens who start drinking before the age of 15 are more likely to become alcoholics.
Addiction is a disease that doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t pick and choose who becomes addicted based on race, religion, gender or any number of other factors. If it did, perhaps the disease would be easier to spot or treat. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of understanding why or how addiction chooses the people it does. What we do know is that half of all American adults have a personal family history of problem drinking or alcohol addiction. With this in mind, it’s important that people know if their personal family history has traces of addiction because genetics can predisposition someone to having the disease. Since many families do have close relatives suffering from addiction, it’s important to understand the consequences of this disease, including:
- Heart disease
- Job loss
- Brain damage
- Liver disease
- Legal problems
While this is just a short list of possible side effects of alcohol addiction, the adverse effects are vast and endless. In severe cases, it may even include death.