Alcoholism Awareness

There is a common perception of how an alcoholic looks and conducts themselves. Often times, especially in the media, alcoholism is portrayed through belligerent, conniving, and hostile behavior. While these depictions are accurate for some alcoholics, there are others who are much better at hiding their alcoholism and are seemingly able to function normally in their daily lives. There is then the misconception that because a heavy drinker does not exhibit “typical” alcoholic behavior, they do not suffer from alcoholism. In truth, many people who suffer from alcoholism don’t realize that their drinking habits would be classified as Alcohol Use Disorder based on the amount and frequency in which they drink. Becoming familiar with alcoholism and the health associated risks is an important step in recognizing that you or a loved one may be suffering.

Alcoholism Defined

Alcoholism is a medical disorder associated with severe problem drinking, diagnosed as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). AUD is chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using. The diagnosis is given when a person meets the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Below are the series of questions to assess if you or are loved one may be suffering from AUD. If a person meets any two of the eleven criteria questions during a twelve-month period they are diagnosed with AUD.

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
  • Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?
  • Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?

If you or a loved one answered yes to two or more of these, the risk of AUD may already be of concern. The more questions that apply, the greater the risk of the health issues associated with AUD and the need to seek medical advice and treatment.

Drinking Levels: How Much is Too Much?

The amount and frequency in which a person consumes alcohol is directly related to AUD. The levels of alcohol consumption are defined to create a better understanding of how much alcohol is safe versus being at risk of alcoholism. These levels are categorized as low risk, moderate consumption, binge drinking, and heavy alcohol use.

Low Risk

  • For women, low-risk drinking is defined as no more than 3 drinks on any single day and no more than 7 drinks per week
  • For men, it is defined as no more than 4 drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week

Moderate alcohol consumption

  • Up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men

Binge drinking

  • A pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men—in about 2 hours
  • 5 or more alcoholic drinks for males or 4 or more alcoholic drinks for females on the same occasion (i.e., at the same time or within a couple of hours of each other) on at least 1 day in the past month

Heavy alcohol use

  • Binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month

How Much Alcohol is in Your Drink?

The types of drinks that can be consumed vary not only on their taste and presentation, but also their alcohol content. A standard drink is determined by the level of alcohol content found in measured amounts. For example, one 12 fl oz beer is equivalent to a 1.5 fl oz shot of distilled liquor. Below is a guide to learn how much alcohol is in certain drinks and should help in understanding the criteria of AUD when referring a standard drink and the levels of alcohol consumption.

alcoholic drinks

Photo credit: niaaa.nih.gov

How Alcohol Affects the Body

The health risks associated with alcoholism are abundant and can occur over a single use or a prolonged period of time. Beyond the immediate risks of driving under the influence, drinking while pregnant, or taking medications that negatively react with alcohol, there are numerous health related risks that can develop through alcohol abuse.

Brain:

  • Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain looks and works. These disruptions can change mood and behavior, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.

Heart:

  • Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems including:
  • Cardiomyopathy – Stretching and drooping of heart muscle
  • Arrhythmias – Irregular heart beat
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure

Liver:

  • Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including:
  • Steatosis, or fatty liver
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Fibrosis

Pancreas:

  • Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.

Immune System:

  • Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease. Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.

alcoholism

Photo credit: csuchico.edu

Are You Struggling with Alcoholism?

Alcoholism can be a silent killer, as many who suffer never reach out for help or talk about it with their loved ones. An estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making it the third highest cause of preventable deaths in the United States next to tobacco and poor diet and physical inactivity. With 15.1 million adults ages 18 and older diagnosed with AUD in 2015, under 7 percent received treatmentii. Acknowledging that you may have a problem is the first step in battling alcoholism. Herren Project is here to help and guide you through the next step: recovery. For many, the thought of rehabilitation alone will prevent them from seeking help. It is common to have feelings of uncertainty or fear regarding what the process of recovery entails. Frequent questions that arise include:

  • Will I lose my job?
  • What if I can’t afford treatment?
  • What if I don’t have insurance?
  • Do I really have a problem?
  • What will my family think?
  • What is treatment like?

These concerns and more are familiar to anyone who has decided to receive treatment. Know that you are not alone. If you are overwhelmed by the “what-ifs” or are unsure what treatment will be like, there are Herren Project alumni willing to talk about their experiences with you and how treatment has changed their lives. Alcoholism is a heavy burden to bear, but by reaching out for help the weight can be lifted and you can focus on the things in life that are truly worth living for.

If you are ready to make a change in your life and start to process of recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction, our Herren Project team is available to help you. Start by sending an email to recovery@herrenproject.org or call (844) 543-8555 for more information. Additionally, you can fill out a support inquiry questionnaire and a Herren Project team member will be in touch with you shortly.

Are You Concerned About a Family Member?

Addiction is a family disease. Herren Project has developed programs and resources to assist families as they support their loved one seeking help for addiction to drugs and alcohol. The pain and suffering caused by Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is seldom limited to the person struggling. Family members, loved ones, and children often share the burden of the disease.

If you are the family member of someone struggling with addiction and are unsure of where to turn for help, Herren Project has a family support team ready to answer any questions or offer guidance to concerns that you may have. Please feel free to fill out our family support inquiry questionnaire to get in touch with a team member.

Herren Project also offers weekly virtual online support groups that are moderated by trained clinicians that can be accessed from your home, office, or phone. These groups include Spousal Support, Family Support, and Grief Support. These support groups are offered at no cost.

Get Involved with Herren Project

Getting involved with Herren Project is one of the best ways to spread awareness of the power of recovery and help those desperately in need of treatment. There are many ways to show your support including Team Herren Project Race Events or donating to help us assist individuals and families impacted by the disease of addiction and substance use disorder through a combination of treatment navigation, support services and prevention campaigns.

Additional Resources

Sources:
https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health
https://www.samhsa.gov