Often, when people talk about the dangers that can arise from substance abuse, the focus is on illegal substances. Alcohol is given less attention, and this may give people a false sense of safety when indulging. It is important to understand how alcohol use and abuse can cause harm.
Immediate Risks of Overindulging Alcohol
Though getting drunk may provide some short-term enjoyment, having too much to drink can increase a person’s risk for a variety on unpleasant outcomes:
- Accidents – vehicular, falls, drownings, burns, and other injuries
- Violence – domestic disputes, suicides, homicides, and sexual assaults
- Risky sexual behaviors – unprotected sex, engaging in sex with unfamiliar people
- Interactions with medications – certain medications may stop working or work differently in the presence of alcohol
- Alcohol poisoning – can result in long-term issues, including death; short-term issues may include the following symptoms:
- Slowed and/or irregular breathing
- Skin that is pale or blue looking
- Low body temperature
- Loss of consciousness
Binge Drinking Versus Heavy Drinking
Neither binge drinking nor heavy drinking are good for a person’s health. The CDC defines binge drinking as a single incident of consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, typically four drinks in a single occasion for women and five for men. Heavy drinking takes place over a longer period of time but is also excessive. For women, this means 8 or more drinks in a week and for men, 15 or more drinks in a week. While neither binge drinking or heavy drinking makes someone an alcoholic, these are behaviors that can become habit-forming. Being able to “hold your liquor” is often considered a good thing, but it’s actually a sign of a developing problem with alcohol.
The Risks from Long-Term Alcohol Abuse
Prolonged alcohol use can have life-changing consequences. Addiction to alcohol, or alcohol use disorder, is one potential outcome of prolonged, excessive alcohol consumption. It is characterized by the following:
- Difficulty controlling how much one is drinking
- Being preoccupied with drinking
- Continuing to drink, even after it has started creating problems
- Needing to drink more to get the same result
- Withdrawal symptoms when a person tries to stop using alcohol
In addition to the risk of becoming addicted to alcohol, heavy drinking can result in serious health issues:
- Liver damage – the liver helps to remove impurities from our bodies, but alcohol can overwhelm its ability to do this and cause the cells in the liver to die.
- Heart disease – by increasing the risk of blood clots and high fats and cholesterol in the body, alcohol can make it more difficult for the heart to pump blood, leading to heart problems.
- Mental issues – not only can alcohol abuse increase the chances of a person developing a mental illness like depression or dementia, but it can also lead to issues with memory, decision making and speech. In the most extreme cases, Wet Brain Syndrome can result.
- Cancer – a wide range of cancers can result from alcohol abuse.
Digestive issues – alcohol can cause inflammation in the stomach, esophagus, and gut. It can make it harder for the intestines to function and lead to the build up of enzymes in a person’s pancreas, potentially leading to diabetes.
- Damaged immune system – alcohol can damage the cells that make up the immune system, making it harder to fight off diseases.
The Right Time to Get Help
It is not necessary to wait for rock bottom. If anything listed below sounds familiar, it is probably a good idea to reach out for professional support:
- Trying to hide the problem
- Being defensive when friends or family express concerns about the amount or frequency of drinking
- Guilty feelings about alcohol consumption
- Struggling to cut down on drinking
- Needing to drink to recover from a hangover
Types of Help that are Available
Each person who struggles with alcohol is a unique individual and may require different interventions to recover from unhealthy patterns of drinking. Some people may be able to stop drinking on their own, with no additional support. Often, however, it is helpful to utilize one or more of the resources that exist to help people stop drinking:
- Recovery Groups – These groups are run by people in recovery from alcohol and other substances. They are free of charge and tend to be held in public spaces like churches and community centers. While Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the most widely known recovery group, there are other types of recovery groups that cater to specific populations or substances. Most recovery groups now offer both in-person and online meetings. There is no limit to how long a person can attend recovery meetings, and many people choose to participate long-term.
- Treatment – Sometimes offered in a residential setting but also available on an outpatient basis, addiction treatment is offered by trained professionals over a specific period of time. Length of time may be dictated by insurance or a treatment center’s policies.
- Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) – In order to help a person in recovery to experience fewer cravings and withdrawal symptoms, medications are sometimes utilized.
If you would like to know more about the dangers of alcohol abuse or treatment methods that might be available, the caring team of professionals at Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, VA, is happy to help.