Though having a drink or two a few times a week is nothing to raise concern, for many Americans alcohol abuse can be a serious problem. According to WebMD.com as many as 18 million adults are either chronic alcoholics or regularly abuse alcohol. Despite the substance's prevalence there are still many misconceptions about what dangers are associated with consuming too much alcohol on a regular basis. However, there are a number of serious physical and psychological effects that can seriously interrupt a person's life.
Of course, to understand the risks associated with alcohol abuse one should know what constitutes heavy drinking versus moderate or even light drinking. Standards laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that excessive alcohol abuse can present itself in two different forms. Persistent heavy drinking is defined has having an average of more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. The other is binge drinking which the CDC says is having five or more drinks in a single occasion for men and four or more for women. Both these lifestyle choices can have serious health implications.
There are some health risks that hit drinkers immediately while they're consuming alcohol. Since drinking to excess impairs one's judgment, some of the most prevalent issues include unintentional injuries from falling burns or traffic accidents. Additionally, alcohol poisoning can be serious problem that can cause anything from low blood pressure to death.
Long term health consequences of alcohol abuse may take more time to develop but can also be significantly more deadly. One of the most common conditions that stems from years of drinking too much is liver disease including cirrhosis.
There are many symptoms that could be indicative of cirrhosis of the liver. Loss of appetite and lack of energy are two of the earliest signs and are often followed by more serious symptoms including yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. There's no known cure for the condition and cirrhosis of the liver can lead to a number of other complications including kidney failure, diabetes and an increased risk of infections.
Though liver disease is one of the most commonly known dangers of alcohol abuse it is certainly not the only one. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found the a person's risk of having a stroke is about 2.3 times higher for the hour after they started drinking compared to when they did not drink any alcohol. Though the study was limited to about 400 individuals it is indicative of the larger impact alcohol abuse can have on the brain.
According to a 1998 study, long term alcohol abusers can experience brain lesions through a number of different channels. Not only can the toxicity of alcohol cause brain damage but other factors stemming from alcohol abuse, including withdrawal, electrolyte disturbances and liver damage, can play a part in the process.
Although both the liver and brain can suffer greatly as a result of prolonged alcohol abuse, there are also psychological effects. There has been a wealth of research concerning the link between depression and alcohol abuse including a 2009 study which found a significant correlation between the two. Specifically, it found that people between 24 and 25 years old were almost twice as likely to suffer from major depression if they abused alcohol.
There are also some dangers that are less quantifiable than health risks. In particular, heavy drinkers run the risk of suffering from social and safety problems especially if their abuse exhibits some of the symptoms of alcoholism.
One of the of the most prevalent dangers of alcohol abuse is drunk driving. In 2009 there were nearly 11,000 alcohol-related fatalities in the United States and though it was a decrease from the year before, it is still a significant amount.
In addition to the dangers associated with drunk driving, alcohol abuse is also associated with a significant spike in violent crime. In fact, Focus on the Family reports that 95 percent of violent crime on college campuses is alcohol-related and alcohol is tied to half of crimes like rape and assaults among underage people.
Regularly drinking to excess can also significantly disrupt a person's personal life. This is especially true for married adults. The National Healthy Marriage Resource center says that people who are divorced or separated are three times more likely to be alcoholics than those who are still together. Additionally, married couples who are both problem drinkers have significantly higher divorce rates.
In addition to causing strained romantic relationships, alcohol abuse may also damage one's career goals as well. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that heavy drinking can have a serious impact on productivity and chances of getting promoted. For instance, regularly drinking to excess can cause everything from feeling sick at work to sleeping on the job. In 1995 researchers estimated productivity losses attributed to alcohol abuse at about $119 billion.
There's nothing wrong with going out for a drink every once and a while but there are some signs people should be on the lookout for to determine if they, or anyone they know, is abusing alcohol. Among the most telling symptoms is regularly not remembering what happened while drinking. Other tell-tale signs of alcohol abuse include many dangers such as damaged personal relationships, legal problems or drinking in risky situations such as before driving.
Though alcohol abuse and alcoholism are both serious conditions, organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous have been helping people cope with the issues for decades.