What Is Alcohol Abuse?
It’s normal for most Americans to enjoy an alcoholic beverage now and then, but when does it cross the line from being acceptable to being too much? Alcohol abuse is a drinking disorder characterized by chronic and excessive dependence on alcohol. Alcohol abuse is also known as alcohol use disorder, alcoholism, and alcohol dependence. It is an actual medical diagnosis and it affects an estimated 16 million people in the United States. Alcohol abuse can affect people of any race and socioeconomic class, however, there are some factors that make certain individuals more at risk than others.
What Is Recommended Alcohol Intake?
If you don’t drink alcohol already, it is not recommended to start for health reasons. That being said, those who do consume alcohol should be certain to drink in moderation. This means up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. This does not mean that you can save up your drinks and enjoy seven on Friday night. Also, while we know that you can go to the bar and be presented with a gigantic neon-colored alcoholic beverage, this would most likely count as more than one drink. What size constitutes one serving of an alcoholic beverage?
- 5 ounces of wine
- 12 ounces of beer
- 5 ounces of liquor
Causes and Risk Factors of Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcoholism isn’t necessarily caused by any one single thing. Genetics play a role in alcoholism, as does psychology, environment, and social factors. People with mental illnesses -- particularly depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder -- may turn to alcohol and other substances to cope. Similarly, a history of trauma may lead to alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use disorder may start in adolescence but typically starts in people’s 20s and 30s. Beginning drinking at an earlier age has been shown to increase the risk of alcohol use disorder, as does steady drinking over time. Having friends who drink a lot and a social scene that glamorizes drinking will encourage alcohol intake which may lead to alcohol abuse as well.
Signs of Alcohol Abuse
- Feeling an uncontrollable urge to drink
- Continuing to drink even when it causes problems
- Experiencing blackouts and memory loss
- Drinking alone or in secret
- Making excuses for how much you drink
- Lack of control over how much you drink
- Alcohol interfering with you doing your normal activities
- Extreme mood swings
- Unable to fall asleep without drinking
- You drive under the influence of alcohol
- You’ve experienced legal problems because of your alcohol use
- You need a drink in the morning to face the day
- Engaging in risky behavior when drinking, such as unprotected sex
- You hurt people when you’re drinking alcohol
- You can’t stop thinking about alcohol
- You’ve tried to stop drinking but can’t
- You have withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking
- You need to increase how much you drink to get the same effect as you used to get
Health Problems Caused by Alcohol Abuse
Too much health problems can result in numerous health problems and even cause death. People with alcohol use disorder are at increased risk for certain types of cancer, cirrhosis, brain damage, pancreatitis, high blood pressure, stomach problems, heart problems, and more. Of course, you are also more likely to hurt or kill yourself by engaging in unsafe behaviors such as driving or swimming while drinking. One-third of motor vehicle fatalities each year are caused by driving under the influence of alcohol. In total, an estimated 80,000 people in the United States die each year from alcohol-related causes.
Alcohol Use Disorder Recovery
There are different options available to support alcohol abuse recovery. The first step generally is recognizing that you have a problem. You’ll go through a detox period, which is a forced withdrawal, during which time a doctor may provide you with medications to help with the withdrawal symptoms. You may experience tremors, nausea, vomiting, sweating, headache, and other uncomfortable symptoms. You should seek help from a licensed addictions therapist to help you through your recovery. You may opt to go to an inpatient rehabilitation center for more intensive support as you recover. There are also support groups that you can take advantage of, such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
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