The published statistics on alcohol use and abuse are sometimes frightening. Drinking, binge drinking, and alcohol abuse are prevalent across all demographics and, unfortunately, almost all age groups in the United States. According to data provided by the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), almost eighty-six percent of people over the age of 18 report drinking alcohol at some point in their lives. Of those, twenty-six percent report binge drinking in the last month, and six percent report heavy to excessive alcohol use in the past month. The same survey indicated over fourteen million adults had an alcohol use disorder, but less than ten percent of those would ever seek or receive treatment at an addiction treatment facility like The Hills in Los Angeles, California. While these statistics are widely publicized, and therefore many are familiar with the adverse impacts alcohol and alcohol abuse have on the lives of American’s there are several facts about alcohol and alcoholism that many do not know. Regardless of what one chooses to drink, what they do not know about alcohol can indeed be harmful.
You Maybe Drinking More Than You Think
A “standard” serving size for most alcoholic beverages contains about 0.6 ounces (14 grams) of pure alcohol. These are the serving sizes often used when attempting to determine who many drinks one can (or should) have before exceeding the recommended allowance or before their drinking is considered excessive. Typical beverage sizes that fall under a standard serving include a 12-ounce beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 8 ounces of malt liquor. Unfortunately, when you order a drink in a bar or restaurant, they are not obligated to, nor do they typically conform to a standard serving size for their drinks. So, if you order a mixed drink with dinner, it may contain as much as three times the alcohol found in one standard drink. To successfully reduce long-term risks to health and reduce susceptibility for addiction, it is generally recommended that women drink no more than seven drinks per week (three drinks per day) and men limit their intake to no more than fourteen per week (or four per day). Those over the age of sixty-five should follow the recommendations set forth for women. That said, it is essential to know how much alcohol is in the beverage you order so you can safely adhere to daily and weekly limits.
Alcohol Changes the Brain
Your brain is skilled at adaptation. It is capable of physically altering its structure to adapt itself to your environment. This allows you to perform better and more efficiently at whatever it is you are doing. If you are participating in healthy hobbies or activities, this is, of course, beneficial to your performance and function. However, if you consistently drink alcohol, your brain may begin to alter its form and function to help you function better with alcohol in your system. When this happens, the brain changes how nerve cells communicate, and it changes how the reward centers in the brain operate, resulting in increased cravings for alcohol and the feeling that one “cannot function” without alcohol in their system. Unfortunately, some of these changes are irreversible. Depending on the severity and duration of their addiction, once an alcoholic stops drinking, some of the alterations to the brain and its function may remain a problem throughout their lives.
Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism are Not One and The Same
While both problem drinkers are alcoholics have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, their relationships are different. Alcoholics are addicted to alcohol. They struggle with a physical and mental dependence on drinking and find it hard to go a single day without consuming alcohol. If you struggle with alcoholism, you can achieve sobriety with the help of professional detox and addiction treatment services at The Hills; you will always be an alcoholic at the risk of relapse. In many cases, relapse can occur after just one drink, regardless of how long you have been sober. If an alcoholic stops drinking or suddenly reduces their intake, they will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms in a very short time.
Problem drinkers, on the other hand, are not physically dependent on alcohol and its effects. Someone who struggles with problem drinking can go days, weeks, or even months without needing or having a drink. When a problem drinker stops drinking or abstains from alcohol for a period, they will not have withdrawal symptoms. The challenges problem drinkers face is not necessarily when and how much they drink, but what happens when they do drink. Often, drinking causes adversity in their lives or the lives of friends or loved ones. They may say or do things that they would not usually had alcohol not been involved in the situation.
Both alcoholics and problem drinkers tend to actively avoid conversations about alcohol and often become defensive when their relationship with alcohol is questioned or discussed. You may know you have a problem with alcohol in some cases but do not feel your issue is significant enough to warrant seeking professional help.
Binge Drinking Can Be Fatal
Binge drinking is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a “pattern of drinking that brings one’s blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 or above”. Typically, this happens when men drink five or more drinks, and women drink four or more drinks in a span of approximately two hours. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that about one out of every six adults in the United States binge drinks about four times each month. Binge drinking is the most common among younger adults between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four and is twice as common among men than among women.
Binge drinking is accompanied by serious risks and various health problems. Some of the most common include chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, and heart disease. It also contributes to increased instances of cancer, memory difficulties, and learning problems. The aftermath of binge drinking also includes unintentional injuries and accidents (car crashes, falls, and alcohol poisoning), violence, and legal difficulties. Each year, binge drinking leads to approximately 2,200 alcohol poisoning related deaths across the nation.
Alcoholism is Partially Genetic
One of the most substantial factors that contribute to developing an alcohol use disorder is family history. There are a couple of factors behind this link. First, the genes you get from your parents do contribute to disease development, alcoholism included. Where there is no distinct gene that has been identified as a contributor to the genetic development of alcohol use disorders, it seems that a variety of genetic interactions contribute to both the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder and the individual’s response (and success) to various treatment efforts.
Another contributing factor outside of genetic contribution is the environment. Many who go on to develop an alcohol use disorder often live in or grow up in an environment where someone struggles with alcohol. Watching or even enabling their friend or loved one during their struggle with alcohol often leads the individual down a similar path. In these cases, addiction sometimes takes over before you realize anything is wrong.
Ethyl Alcohol is the Addictive Ingredient in Alcoholic Beverages
Ethanol (also called ethyl alcohol, grain alcohol, and alcohol) is the clear, colorless liquid that is the primary ingredient in alcoholic beverages. Ethanol is a natural byproduct of fermenting plants; however, it can also chemically mass-produced. Because it is readily dissolvable in liquids and other organic compounds, ethanol is also found in many other everyday products, including food flavorings (such as vanilla extract), personal care products, beauty products, paint, varnishes, and fuel (gasoline). Ethanol is also a common ingredient in many of the hand sanitizers found on the market today. Ethanol, when consumed in moderation, is easily metabolized by the liver. However, binge drinking, heavy drinking, and chronic addiction eventually overwhelm the liver allowing excess alcohol to circulate through other organ systems within the body, including the brain. When alcohol reaches the brain and central nervous system, it results in the physical and mental symptoms most recognize as being “drunk.”
Alcohol Detox and Withdrawal Can Be Dangerous
When someone who struggles with an alcohol use disorder goes through detox, the process can be painful, scary, and sometimes dangerous. Detox requires you to experience a wide range of withdrawal symptoms as your body purges itself of alcohol and learns to function without levels of the substance in your body. In some cases, withdrawal symptoms can cause a person trying to detox on their own to relapse because the symptoms become too overwhelming to manage. Because the most common withdrawal symptoms can sometimes be dangerous, it is highly suggested that one undergoes detox under medical supervision at a rehab facility like The Hills in Los Angeles, California. Those who try to detox without medical supervision are at a higher risk for severe medical problems. Conversely, those who detox with medical supervision are more likely to safely and successfully go through the process.
Many people are familiar with the challenges that alcohol can bring to the lives of those who struggle with it. The impacts are felt beyond the individual and often ripple through their immediate family to friends, co-workers, and other community members. Contrary to long-standing myth, alcoholism is not a choice; it is a chronic disease often characterized by instances of relapse. The decision to seek treatment for alcoholism can be difficult. Many fear the stigma and potential judgment of those closest to them. Like many chronic illnesses, alcoholism is treatable. With the help of a professional treatment team and an individualized addiction treatment plan, sobriety and recovery are within reach. Don’t let alcohol deprive you of another day. If you are ready to start your journey to a healthy, sober, alcohol-free life, reach out to The Hills today.