For many, alcohol is the perfect beverage to serve when having a party with friends. It’s the drink of choice for holidays, company parties and sporting events. People who drink alcohol report that it helps them to relax and enjoy themselves. These drinkers may even point to studies that seem to indicate that drinking is good for overall health.
While it might be true that moderate drinking might have some benefits to your health, it’s definitely true that serious drinking can be disastrous. Alcohol addiction robs its victims of their health and well-being, and the transformation from casual drinker to alcoholic might happen so slowly that the warning signs are simply missed or ignored.
Finding the line between casual, moderate drinking and compulsive, disastrous drinking can be difficult, but there are a few steps people can take to spot an alcohol problem early. Considering the potential consequences of alcohol addiction, it is helpful to know that treatment is available.
The Prevalence of Alcohol Addiction
Addictions, be they to alcohol or to drugs, begin with a choice. At one point, the person chose to pick up a glass of alcohol and start drinking. However, addictions are compulsive problems in which the person has lost control over the behavior.
No longer is the person simply choosing to drink and then drinking to excess. Instead, the person has no control over whether or not he/she should be drinking. Instead of controlling the drinking, the drinking controls her. These addictions are rooted in changes in brain chemistry caused by the chemicals the person is accustomed to abusing. The body comes to believe that it cannot function without access to these drugs, and an addiction is soon to follow.
Addictions can happen to people of any age, but alcoholism is more likely in people who choose to start drinking young.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that rates of teen drinking were at historic lows in 2011, which seems to indicate that fewer teens are choosing to drink before they’re of legal age to do so.3 This could be good news, as the adolescent mind is growing and changing at an astonishing rate, and as a result, that brain might be at a greater risk of developing an addiction than an adult brain.
However, adults are still reporting very high rates of alcohol addiction, with the U.S. National Library of Medicine reporting that nearly 17.6 million American adults are alcoholics or have alcohol-related problems.4 It’s clear that, for adults, alcohol remains a huge issue and alcoholism often results from casual alcohol use.
- Those who started drinking at an early age
- Those who have a parent or a close relative with alcoholism
- Those who live with alcoholics
- Those who take drugs while drinking alcohol4
In addition, some mental illnesses might make the risk of addiction slightly larger. In a study published in the Journal of Affected Disorders, researchers found that both men and women who had a history of anxiety or depression were at a greater risk of developing alcoholism, when compared to people who did not have these mental illnesses.1 It’s not clear whether the mental illnesses came first, or if the addictions caused changes that led to mental illness, but the link seems both strong and clear.
A Dangerous Pattern
People who have an addiction to alcohol may binge drink: a pattern of consumption in which the person drinks to excess with the specific aim of getting drunk. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 38 million American adults binge drink, and they do so about four times per month.2 Drinking like this can be disastrous, as people who are incredibly intoxicated like this are prone to falls and accidents. They might also be prone to violent behavior.
According to a study published in the journal Addiction, the very high homicide rate in Russia might be laid at the feet of binge drinking, as the number of homicide deaths, as well as the number of alcohol-related deaths, were highest on Saturdays and Sundays.3 It seems that people drink more on the weekend, and they get in violent altercations as a result. This is just one of the terrible consequences of binge drinking and alcohol addiction.
Heavy drinking can have extensive effects on the brain that last long beyond the buzz left behind by alcohol. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, heavy alcohol use can shrink and disturb brain tissue. This can cause minor slips in memory, and those changes may be reversible with abstinence from alcohol, but these changes can also lead to long-term damage.4 Some people develop significant motor control problems, as well as memory deficits, due to long-term alcohol abuse.
Alcohol abuse can also cause the following deficiencies:
- Cardiomyopathy, or a weakening of the heart muscle
- High blood pressure
- Liver damage
All of this damage, put together, could mean a person with alcoholism could lose his/her life to the disease. It’s a problem that happens all too often. According to the World Health Organization, alcohol is responsible for four percent of the global burden of disease, meaning that it almost matches the burden imposed by high blood pressure or tobacco use.5 Alcoholism, if left untreated, could lead to a premature death.
The Cost of Alcohol Abuse
Despite the prevalence of 12-Step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and readily available inpatient treatment centers, alcohol dependence remains high in this country, and communities may pay for that problem in ways large and small.6 According to the CDC, excessive alcohol consumption costs in 2006 reached $223.5 billion.7 Much of that cost came from the business sector, as alcoholism causes huge losses in workplace productivity. In some communities, alcoholism could lead to increased taxes as fewer people are working and paying taxes.
Alcohol abuse can also take a toll on the lives of people in the community, especially if the alcoholic person chooses to drive after drinking. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 10,497 people died in drunk driving crashes in 2016 alone.8 Many of these deaths were innocent bystanders who happened to be sharing the road with someone who chose to drive while under the influence. It’s a high price a community is asked to pay.
Women who drink during pregnancy can also cause long-term damage to their unborn babies, including heart defects, vision problems, learning disabilities or behavioral problems. In many cases, these problems will not go away as the child grows.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, alcohol problems are estimated to occur in one to two live births per 1,000 in the United States each year.9
Some of these babies may need intensive medical care that the mothers simply cannot pay for, meaning that the community might be asked to foot the bill. Other babies may just not survive the withdrawal process they face at birth.10 That’s a loss that’s much too difficult to put a price on.
Are You Addicted?
Alcohol addiction can be difficult to spot, especially for people who are surrounded by family members and friends who drink on a regular basis. It can be hard to tell when a drinker’s behavior seems to cross the line into addiction. Admitting that alcohol is a problem can be frightening for many people, and they may fear that their friends or family members will criticize them. It’s important to remember that addictions are simply too dangerous to be left alone and that most people will respect the one who chooses to get help.
While addictions to alcohol might look different in different people, those who can answer “yes” to the following questions are typically considered at risk for alcoholism and should seek out help:
- Are you using alcohol to escape today?
- Have you tried to stop drinking and can’t?
- Are you drinking more than you did a few weeks or even a few days ago?
- Do you need to drink in the morning, as soon as you wake up?
- Are you unable to control how much you drink, no matter how you try?
- Do you drink while angry or depressed?
- Do you drink alone?
- Are you worried about your drinking?
- Are your family members, friends or coworkers worried about your drinking?
- Do you drink and drive?
Alcohol Rehab at The Oaks at La Paloma
If you believe that alcoholism is an issue in your life, we can help. At The Oaks at La Paloma, we have an extensive staff with experience in alcohol addiction. We keep our ratio of patients to staff quite low, so we can focus on the needs of everyone in our care. We also utilize a customized approach, ensuring that all treatment is designed to help people with the specific problems they face. Our treatments can help you deal not only with the addiction, but also any mental or emotional conditions that led to substance use in the first place.
A newly renovated alcohol detox wing is available for those who need it, with medical supervision allowing for the safest possible experience. Length of stay is determined on an individual basis, with the staff choosing the program that allows for the greatest level of long-term success.
If you or someone you know is in need of treatment for alcoholism, contact The Oaks at La Paloma at our toll-free helpline, 901-350-4575. Our caring admissions coordinators are there to take your call 24 hours a day and answer any questions you have about the treatment process, financing and logistics. Please call now.
1 Gratzer, D,RD Levitan, R.D., et.al. "Lifetime rates of alcoholism in adults with anxiety, depression, or co-morbid depression/anxiety: a community survey of Ontario" NCBI. April 2004. Accessed 5 October 2017.
2 "Binge Drinking." CDC. 10 October 2013. Accessed 5 October 2017.
3 William Alex Pridemore. "Weekend effects on binge drinking and homicide: the social connection between alcohol and violence in Russia."Addiction. 12 May 2004. Accessed 5 October 2017.
4 "Beyond Hangovers: Understanding Alcohol’s Impact on Your Health." NIAAA. September 2010. Accessed 5 October 2017.
5 Brewer, Robert D. and Monica H. Swahn. "Binge Drinking and Violence." JAMA. 3 August 2005. Accessed 5 October 2017.
6 Alcoholics Anonymous. 2017. Accessed 5 October 2017.
7 "Excessive Drinking Costs U.S. $223.5 Billion." CDC. 12 January 2016. Accessed 5 October 2017.
8 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "Traffic Safety Facts 2016: Alcohol-Impaired Driving." Washington DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2017.
9 "Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders." CDC. 6 June 2017. Accessed 5 October 2017.