Alcohol influences people in various ways, while not everyone who has a glass of wine occasionally ends up abusing it. Some, however, lose all sense of control when it comes to drinking.
Alcohol has remained a part of our culture and society for hundreds of years. It is seeped into our customs, our traditions, and even into our identities. Yet alcohol is considered a drug that is highly addictive in nature and the cause of many health complications.
Even though it’s widely available and socially acceptable to drink, this substance is still responsible for thousands of deaths and countless injuries each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol use and abuse are responsible for more than 95,000 deaths in the United States each year and 6 percent of all deaths worldwide. The harmful effects of alcohol abuse are far-reaching and range from individual health risks, morbidity, and mortality to consequences for family, friends, and society alike. And yet, the prevalence of alcohol use in our society has not declined.
What Is Alcohol Abuse?
Alcohol abuse or misuse is a serious problem in the US and all across the world. This refers to a regular pattern of heavy drinking that leads to unsafe decisions and abnormal behaviors. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), moderate drinking is defined as two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. And heavy drinking refers to four drinks a day for men and more than three drinks a day for women.
People who drink heavily are also known to engage in binge drinking practices regularly. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), binge drinking is characterized as a pattern of drinking that results in a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher. This form of heavy drinking corresponds to having four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men within two hours.
Binge drinking is one of the most common causes of alcohol poisoning among teenagers and young adults in the U.S. Binge drinking also increases the risk of drunk driving, aggressive activity, sexual abuse, infectious diseases, and AUD.
The Cause of Abuse
Alcohol misuse is the second most prevalent type of drug abuse in the United States after tobacco addiction. Alcohol abuse is often influenced by personal factors such as one’s upbringing, family background, and the age at which one started drinking. Other risk factors that influence abusive drinking patterns are:
- Peer pressure
- The need to fit in
- A coping strategy for stress
- Experiencing trauma
- A coping strategy for isolation, self-doubt, or unhappiness
- To help cope with mental health issues
- Family history of substance abuse
Signs of Alcohol Abuse
Substance abuse can lead to many health complications and irresponsible or dangerous behaviors. The ability to recognize the signs of this disruptive behavior can help save someone’s life or prevent the condition from progressing to a serious health condition.
Here are some questions to help you identify abusive drinking patterns. If you answer ‘yes’ to most of them, then you’re likely drinking too much:
- Do you experience a personality change when you drink?
- Do you drink to overcome social anxiety or stressful situations?
- Has your drinking ever caused you to neglect work or other responsibilities?
- Do you drink as a form of escape from reality?
- Is it hard for you to stop drinking after a couple of drinks?
- Do you lose control of how much you drink?
- Have you tried, and failed, to drink less?
- Do you sometimes experience blackouts?
- Do you regret your actions the following day?
- Have friends or family members tried to express their concern about your drinking?
- Has your work or relationships suffered because of your drinking?
- Do you drink just to get over a hangover?
Do not ignore the warning signs of alcohol abuse. Talk to your healthcare provider or an addiction specialist to help you identify and overcome this habit before it develops into a serious health condition.
Difference Between Misuse and Alcohol Addiction
The terminology used to characterize problem drinking has evolved, and understanding the distinctions between alcohol use disorder and abuse can be puzzling for many. However, the clearest distinction between the two conditions is alcohol dependence and tolerance.
Alcoholism is a term that is often used interchangeably with alcohol use disorders or alcohol dependency. Since individuals who misuse this substance aren’t necessarily dependent on it, the signs, symptoms, and consequences of these alcohol-related conditions can differ. Regardless of this distinction, substance use and abuse can cause a detrimental effect on physical health, mental health, and an individual’s wellbeing.
While not all who abuse this substance go on to develop an AUD, the line between them can easily blur over time. So having a better understanding of both conditions can help you overcome the issue before it worsens.
The difference between the two is as follows:
Dependence: Dependence refers to a physical reliance on a substance. Individuals who form a dependence will encounter withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, sweating, insomnia, irritability, and intense urges to drink during abrupt cessation.
Severity: Abuse is a less severe form of AUD. However, people who abuse this substance are not exempt from its negative consequences and complications.
Signs: The signs of misuse from AUD can vary slightly from one another. But the main distinction is that AUD occurs with the development of dependence and tolerance.
Treatment: Since alcohol use disorders are caused by dependence, patients will first require a medical detox to overcome this condition. And abuse can be simply be addressed through behavioral changes to help improve your quality of life.
The Effects of Alcohol on the Brain
Understanding how alcohol affects the central nervous system is one of the clearest ways to comprehend its effects on your body. One of the first signs that you’ve had too much to drink is slurred speech. The connectivity between your brain and your body can be hampered by this addictive substance. And coordination becomes more complicated as a result of this. It’s also likely that you’ll have trouble balancing. Hence It is never a good idea to drive after drinking.
Alcohol can affect many parts of the brain, making it impossible for anyone who abuses it to stop drinking. Alcohol is believed to interfere with the brain’s reward system. This can make drinking more enjoyable, resulting in feelings of satisfaction, comfort, and a reduction in anxiety or fear. These functions, as well as how they manifest in the brain, will strengthen the temptation to keep drinking.
Alcohol also affects parts of the brain that controls decision-making. Anyone who drinks will, to some degree, feel this for themselves. After drinking, it’s normal to make poor judgment and participate in risky behaviors. However, the negative consequences of drinking are more profound in young adults and adolescents. Since the brain is still evolving during puberty and early adulthood, they are more vulnerable to its effects than the adult brain. Furthermore, studies show that the sooner someone begins drinking, the more likely they are to have significant issues with substance abuse later in life.
The Dangers of Alcohol Abuse
The effects of alcohol on your body begin the moment you have your first drink. A glass of wine a day may not necessarily impact your overall health. But if the habit persists or if you find it difficult to quit after only one drink, the cumulative effects may be significant.
Digestive and endocrine glands – Heavy drinking can cause the pancreas to develop digestive enzymes that are triggered abnormally. The buildup of these enzymes can cause pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas. Pancreatitis can evolve into a long-term condition with severe consequences.
Damage from inflammation – The liver is an organ that assists in the degradation and removal of harmful substances from the body, including alcohol. Heavy drinking can hamper this process and improve the odds of developing chronic liver disease and inflammation. The liver has a harder time removing harmful compounds from the body as it becomes weaker.
Sugar levels – The pancreas aids in the regulation of your body’s insulin usage and glucose response. If your pancreas and liver aren’t working properly, you run the risk of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. A weakened pancreas can also make it difficult for the body to produce enough insulin. People with preexisting diabetes or hypoglycemia should avoid excessive alcohol intake for this reason.
Can Alcohol Abuse be Prevented?
AUD could have been a preventable disease if it were addressed and treated during its earliest stages. While alcohol abuse can be fixed with some hard work and determination, AUD, on the other hand, has no known cure. Hence the best way to prevent AUD is by preventing its misuse. Here are few tips to consider to prevent or control alcohol abuse:
- Limit yourself to one drink when you are alone or with friends.
- Seek treatment for any underlying mental disorders.
- Avoiding or limiting your time with people who encourage you to drink.
- Talk to your family doctor about your concerns.
- Consider taking part in a support group made up of people going through the same challenge as you.
Your doctor may simply ask you a few questions regarding your drinking patterns. Or your doctor may perform an initial test to evaluate the issue. Medical professionals will determine the right action, depending on your age and other factors.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with substance abuse, reach out to Futures Recovery Healthcare. Our compassionate team of healthcare professionals can help guide you on the right path and provide you with the necessary support you need.