Alcohol Abuse – Signs, Facts and Binge Drinking
Alcohol is a legal substance in the United States and has been since the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933. Nationwide, the legal age to consume alcoholic beverages is 21, although for a while the drinking age was lowered to 18 years because young adult males could be drafted to fight in the Vietnam War yet they could not legally have a beer. After the war ended, however, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration worked with the 98th Congress of the United States to pass a federal law mandating a uniform age of 21 for the legal consumption and possession of alcohol in most cases.
This does not, however, solve the problem of underage drinking or alcohol abuse in general. It does show that alcohol is a powerful force in our society and in the lives of many, many people. Alcohol abuse is a problem even if the individual drinking the alcohol is not addicted. The use of alcohol in unhealthy ways contributes to the highway deaths that concerned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but alcohol abuse can have deadly consequences even when driving is not involved.
If you’ve been struggling with an alcohol abuse issue, real help is available. While you may have tried to cut back on your drinking on your own, most people need professional assistance in order to truly recover from alcohol abuse and addiction. It’s nothing to be ashamed of – regular alcohol abuse can change the way your brain functions, making it immensely difficult for you to quit on your own. Thankfully, alcohol abuse treatment programs can give you the necessary boost you need to get started on your path to recovery.
How do you know when you’re abusing alcohol versus actually dependent on it? While the similar terms can be confusing, alcohol dependence denotes a physical dependence on the substance, whereas alcohol abuse does not. Someone who is dependent upon alcohol experiences physical withdrawal symptoms – such as nausea, tremors, weakness and anxiety – when they go without alcohol. While someone who abuses alcohol may drink far more than they should in one sitting, they may go weeks or even months without drinking.
Those who abuse alcohol don’t have physical cravings for alcohol like alcoholics do. Usually those who abuse alcohol have not yet experienced serious effects of their drinking. Whereas alcohol dependence may cause a host of damaging results, such as a lost job, damaged relationships, financial ruin and a criminal record, those who simply abuse alcohol may experience no serious negative effects on their life – for now.
When Does Abuse Become Dependence?
There’s a fine line between abuse and dependence. In fact, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when an alcohol abuser crosses over into an alcoholic. Some of the signs of abuse and dependence are similar; however, the two telltale signs that signify dependence are:
- Withdrawal symptoms when you go without alcohol
- Cravings for alcohol in between drinks
While the effects of alcohol abuse are generally not as grave as those of dependence, it’s important to address the issue before it progresses.
If you leave alcohol abuse untreated, it will very likely progress into addiction. Don’t let alcohol abuse transform into something that is truly far beyond your control; get help today.
If you think you might need alcohol abuse treatment, chances are that you do. Don’t wait until your issue turns into a full-blown addiction. Instead, get the help you need today. Here are some signs that it’s time to get help:
- You drink more than you intended to. If you regularly drink more than you planned to, it’s time to get help.
- You’ve tried to stop drinking before and failed. If past attempts to quit drinking have been unsuccessful, professional help can make the difference in your recovery.
- Your loved ones are concerned about your drinking. If friends or family members have expressed concern about your drinking, it may be time to get help.
- You miss out on work or family functions because of drinking. If you have missed work, family activities or social events because you were hungover, alcohol abuse treatment might be in order.
Forms of Treatment
Treatment for alcohol abuse comes in many forms, including inpatient and outpatient programs, as well as local support groups and individual counseling sessions. Many people benefit from an initial stay at an inpatient program that addresses the base causes of the issue, and then continued support through group therapy or 12-step meetings in their community. Inpatient programs come in many formats, such as gender-specific treatment, holistic programs or luxury treatment, ensuring that there is a program that will fit well with your personality and life circumstances.
The Culture of Underage Drinking in America
More than 70 percent of high school seniors in the United States admitted to abusing alcohol at least once in their lifetime, according to the most recent Monitoring the Future study conducted in 2010. Of those students in the 8thgrade, students approximately 13 years of age, more than 35 percent admitted the same. Nearly three out of 100 high school students admitted to abusing alcohol on a daily basis.
Studies have shown that the younger an individual is introduced to drinking, the more likely he is to develop an alcohol addiction in the future. In fact, kids who abuse alcohol are more likely to:
- Become alcoholics
- Engage in risky sexual activity
- Suffer a non-fatal injury
- Suffer a fatal injury
Binge Drinking Is Dangerous
Binge drinking is an activity wherein a person consumes large quantities of alcohol on one occasion. A person may only drink once per year, for instance, to celebrate New Year’s Eve or their birthday perhaps, but when they drink, they drink well past the point of intoxication. It is easy to lose track of how many drinks one may consume in this particular setting, simply because others may be helping in the celebration by purchasing drinks for the “birthday girl” or their date for the evening.
Alcohol in Colleges and Universities
College campuses are ripe for binge drinking episodes because of the party culture of some schools. The number of college students and others aged 18 to 24 years who reported a drinking and driving episode in 2007 was more than two million.
Approximately 700,000 students reported being assaulted by another student who had been drinking, according to College Drinking Prevention, a government division associated with the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Heath.
Binge drinking occurs if a male consumes five drinks or a woman consumes four drinks in the span of two hours.
Drinking games are a deliberate form of binge drinking. Participating in drinking games can also lead to dangerous consequences. When an individual abuses alcohol in this manner, it is easy to lose track of how many drinks one has consumed. The focus is on playing the game rather than drinking responsibly and the speed with which an individual consumes multiple drinks is greatly increased.
When an individual drinks an alcoholic beverage, roughly 20 percent of the alcohol content is absorbed through the lining of the stomach. The remaining alcohol is absorbed through the lining of the small intestine as the liquid is digested. The liver metabolizes this alcohol content from the blood. The human body can metabolize approximately one drink per hour. If an individual drinks more than this amount, the excess alcohol is stored in the blood to be metabolized over time. The process takes some time; therefore, if an individual is drinking large amounts of alcohol continuously, the blood alcohol content will continue to rise at a dangerous rate.
Alcohol poisoning is a very real risk when it comes to binge drinking in any setting, either on campus or simply at a party or nightclub. It is important to understand the signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning if you are ever in a situation where binge drinking is taking place. The signs are:
- Vomiting. When a human being becomes physically ill due to alcohol consumption, there is a problem
- Passing out. If the individual cannot be roused, they are in need of medical attention.
- Slow or irregular breathing. Fewer than eight breaths per minute or more than 10 seconds between breaths is a sign that the central nervous system has been significantly depressed
- Feeling exceptionally cold. Hypothermia can result from the abuse of alcohol and is recognized by shivering, blue pallor to the skin or extreme paleness
What Amount Constitutes One Drink?
One reason that so many individuals may participate in alcohol abuse is the fact that they do not understand what constitutes one drink. Is one bottle of beer a drink? What if that bottle is 44 ounces? What constitutes a glass of wine, considering that all wine glasses are not created equally?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains the national standard for the discussion of alcohol consumption as it relates to a single drink as follows:
- 5 ounces of wine
- 12 ounces of beer
- 8 ounces of malt liquor
- 1.5 ounces of hard liquor or distilled spirits (e.g., vodka, tequila, rum, etc.)
To place this into practical terms, consider the average “six pack” of 12-ounce beer cans that can be purchased in almost any grocery or convenience store. This amount of alcohol is designed to be consumed over a period of six hours by a single individual, or one hour by six individuals. If you or someone you know drinks a six-pack of beer in fewer than six hours, you have crossed into binge drinking territory.
When mixing cocktails, the average drink will contain at least one shot (1.5 ounces) of alcohol. This means that if one consumes more than one cocktail per hour, the human body cannot metabolize the alcohol and dangerous consequences can follow.
Is Alcohol Good for You?
There has been much debate concerning whether a moderate or small amount of alcohol is good for one’s health. The fact of the matter is that the jury is still out on this particular verdict. Some studies, according the American Heart Association, have shown some benefits to a single glass of red wine in terms of reducing heart disease. However, these results may come from the overall lifestyle of the participants in the study. If these individuals do not abuse alcohol, there is a possibility that they are also more active than the average population which could also account for the results.Alcohol abuse, however, has proven negative health effects. Abusing alcohol can lead to alcoholism, liver disease and cirrhosis of the liver, obesity, high blood pressure and depression with suicide ideation. Clearly, any benefits of the antioxidant properties of drinking wine are overshadowed by the ill effects of alcohol on the human body.
There are other ways to obtain the benefits of antioxidants. Using this as a reason to drink is more indicative of an alcohol abuse scenario than a healthful one.
Dangers of Mixing Alcohol With Medication
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. It slows the functions of the CNS in the same way that drugs like Xanax or Valium do. When an individual is in a situation where alcohol abuse is present, there is likelihood that other drugs will be available as well. In other situations, one may not realize that alcohol can negatively influence their everyday, legally prescribed medication.
Other drugs, like stimulants, can cause a mix of signals to the brain. For instance, the alcohol causes the person to feel tired or drowsy (after the initial high and euphoria removed inhibitions which can increase activity in the early stages of drinking), while stimulants make the brain more active and awake. This can confuse the drinker into feeling less of the effects of alcohol and cause them to drink more alcohol than is advisable. Combining alcohol and stimulant drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine can lead to heart attack and stroke.
Signs and Symptoms of Abuse
Not everyone who abuses alcohol is a regular at the local bar or nightclub. Many people who abuse alcohol do so in the in privacy of their own homes when nobody is watching. There is no blood test or other physical diagnostic procedure that will reveal a certain “yes” or “no” answer to whether someone suffers from addiction or abuses alcohol. However, there are ways to determine whether a problem might exist. In fact, if drinking alcohol is posing a problem in one’s life, then the question has already been answered.
Questions to Ask to Determine whether You Abuse Alcohol
- Do you continue to drink regardless of the effects of drinking on family relationships, social relationships and work or school obligations?
- Do you often drink more than two drinks per hour when you attend social events?
- Do you drink more than two drinks per hour when you are alone?
- Do you drink while consuming other drugs or prescribed medication?
- Do you participate in activities that center on drinking and becoming intoxicated?
- Have you suffered any legal problems due to your drinking?
- Has a health checkup resulted in concerns about your liver or other organs due to alcohol consumption?
- Do you become defensive when family or friends express concerns about your drinking?
- Do you often become abusive or angry when you are under the influence of alcohol?
- Do you make excuses to drink or regularly reward yourself with binge drinking?
Once alcohol abuse has crossed the line into alcohol addiction, the only way to prevent the negative effects of alcoholism is to completely abstain from drinking any form of alcohol. An individual can abuse alcohol very infrequently and still suffer profound effects. Cutting down on the amount that one will drink in a single setting can eliminate the abuse factor and greatly reduce the chances of becoming addicted to alcohol. Remember, however, that if a history of alcohol abuse exists, there is a greater chance that loss of control in any alcohol-related situation will become a threat.
Alcohol abuse is dangerous. When an individual consumes a legal substance, like alcohol, he or she may not recognize the potential for harm inherent in the practice. The main difference between alcohol abuse and addiction is the presence of cravings and withdrawal symptoms if alcohol is not consumed. This is a minor difference when discussing the risky practice of alcohol abuse. While the long-term health effects are more severe for the alcoholic, the immediate dangers concerning driving while intoxicated, non-driving injuries and inadequate decision-making skills can affect anyone, even someone who has never abused alcohol before.
Alcohol Abuse Facts
Despite its legal status, alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances in the United States, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). You may think that because alcohol is legal if you’re over 21, alcoholism isn’t as serious a disease as other substance abuse addictions. Sadly, alcohol abuse and addiction lead to serious destruction, including long-term health effects, financial ruin, criminal activity, injuries and death.
Who Abuses Alcohol?
In truth, alcohol abuse and addiction affect just about every demographic – from adolescents to the elderly, the rich to the poor, and all races, genders and cultures. It is true, however, that certain groups seem to abuse alcohol more regularly than others, as demonstrated by these statistics:
- Men are more likely to abuse alcohol than women.
- Veterans abuse alcohol at a high rate.
- One-third of high school seniors admit to binge drinking within the past 30 days.
- One-quarter of Americans in alcohol rehab experienced grief or trauma that led to their alcohol issues.
Alcohol abuse is such a far-reaching issue that the National Library of Medicine reported that over 40 percent of Americans had a family member who dealt with the issue in 2008. As it’s such a prevalent issue for so many Americans, it’s essential that real help is available to those who need it. While any form of alcohol abuse treatment is beneficial, inpatient treatment enjoys higher success rates than outpatient care. In fact, success rates at inpatient programs are generally about 15 percent higher than outpatient programs.