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How Much is Too Much? Don’t Let a Habit Become an Addiction


April is Alcohol Awareness Month

Nearly 90,000 people die every year from alcohol-related deaths.

Sometimes it’s nice to sit down after a long day and enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine. Many find a nice drink after supper is a great way to wind down and relax before heading to bed. But, for some people, that first drink comes much earlier in the day, perhaps first thing after waking, and the drinks continue. For some, copious amounts of alcohol are needed just to get through a typical day.

According to a recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the prevalence of drinking in the U.S. was 86% of people ages 18 or older reported they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime; 70% reported they drank in the past year; and 56% reported they drank in the past month. Based on these numbers, it appears the use of alcohol across the country is quite high.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) has designated April as Alcohol Awareness Month so the public can look more closely at personal drinking habits. The organization is encouraging the nation to focus on the prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery of alcohol-related problems.

How Big is the Problem?

Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the country according to NCADD: 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage in risky, binge drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems.

More than half of all adults have a family history of alcoholism or problem drinking, and more than 7 million children live in a household where at least one parent is dependent on or has abused alcohol.

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism can affect all aspects of a person’s life. Long-term alcohol use can cause serious health complications, can damage emotional stability, finances, career, and impact one’s family, friends, and community.

Too Much Can Destroy the Body

Consuming too much alcohol—on a single occasion or over time—can have serious consequences. Most Americans recognize that drinking too much can lead to accidents and dependence, but that’s only part of the story. In addition to these serious problems, alcohol abuse can damage organs, weaken the immune system, and contribute to certain types of cancers. Plus, alcohol affects different people differently. Genes, environment, and even diet can play a role in whether you develop an alcohol-related disease.

One thing we should all understand is that drinking too much can take a serious toll on your health. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism spells out how alcohol can affect your body:

Brain: Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways and can affect the way the brain looks and works. These disruptions can change mood and behavior and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.

Heart: Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems including:

  • Cardiomyopathy (stretching and drooping of heart muscle);
  • Arrhythmias (irregular heart beat);
  • Stroke; and
  • High blood pressure.

Liver: Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver which can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including:

  • Steatosis, or fatty liver;
  • Alcoholic hepatitis;
  • Fibrosis; and
  • Cirrhosis.

Pancreas: Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis—a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.

Cancer: Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of developing certain cancers, including cancers of the:

  • Mouth;
  • Esophagus;
  • Throat;
  • Liver; and
  • Breast.

Immune system: Too much alcohol can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease. Chronic drinkers are more likely to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than those who don’t drink too much. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections, even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.

Are You Abusing Alcohol?

Seeing just how excessive drinking can lead to so many negative events that can alter (or even end) someone’s life, it’s important to look at your own habits or those of a friend or family member to determine if a problem exists. QuitAlcohol.com offers a few of the common signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse:

  • Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink;
  • Wanting to cut down on how much you drink or making unsuccessful attempts to do so;
  • Spending a lot of time drinking, getting alcohol, or recovering from alcohol use;
  • Feeling a strong craving or urge to drink alcohol;
  • Failing to fulfill major obligations at work, school, or home due to repeated alcohol use;
  • Continuing to drink alcohol even though you know it’s causing physical, social, or interpersonal problems;
  • Giving up or reducing social and work activities and hobbies;
  • Using alcohol in situations where it’s not safe, such as when driving or swimming;
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol so you need more to feel its effect or you have a reduced effect from the same amount; or
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, sweating, and shaking when you don’t drink, or if you’re drinking to avoid these symptoms.

Do any of the above symptoms apply to you? Have you or someone you love neglected children, performed poorly at work, received poor or failing grades in school, or skipped out on work, school, personal, or social commitments because of alcohol use? What about finding yourself in a dangerous situation due to alcohol use?

Take the Next Step

Alcoholism has little to do with what kind of alcohol you drink, how long you’ve been drinking, or even exactly how much alcohol you consume—but it has a great deal to do with the uncontrollable need for alcohol. Most alcoholics can’t just “use some willpower” to stop drinking.

The alcoholic is frequently in the grip of a powerful craving—a need that can feel as strong as the need for food or water. While some are able to recover without help, the majority of sufferers need outside assistance to recover from the disease. Don’t let alcohol control your life. If you believe you have a drinking problem, seek professional help. With support and treatment, you can stop drinking and reclaim your life.

If you have questions about any healthcare issue, contact the primary care providers at Coastal Carolina Health Care by calling (252) 633-4111 or visiting www.cchchealthcare.com.

(Sources: National Institutes of Health; National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence; National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; National Survey on Drug Use and Health; American Addiction Centers; QuitAlcohol.com; and Bradford Health Services.)