Fitness Facts: Alcohol abuse
By Connie Colbert
Director, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic
April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and you might ask yourself why it is important to have a month devoted to the awareness of alcohol.
The answer, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, is that it is “a way of increasing outreach and education regarding the dangers of alcoholism and issues related to alcohol.”
The program was started in April 1987 with the intention of targeting college-age students who might be drinking too much as a part of their newfound freedom. It has since become a national movement to draw more attention to the causes and effects of alcoholism as well as how to help families and communities deal with drinking problems.
The statistics in the United States are staggering:
- One in every 12 adults, or 17.6 million people, suffer from alcohol-use disorder or alcohol dependence.
- Nearly 90,000 people die every year from alcohol-related deaths.
- According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 86.4 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime; 70.1 percent reported that they drank in the past year; and 56.0 percent reported that they drank in the past month.
- According to the 2015 NSDUH, 15.1 million adults ages 18 and older (6.2 percent of this age group) had Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). This includes 9.8 million men (8.4 percent of men in this age group) and 5.3 million women.
- According to the 2015 NSDUH, an estimated 623,000 adolescents ages 12-17 had AUD. This number includes 298,000 males and 325,000 females.
Alcohol addiction, also known as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), is a disease that affects people of all walks of life. Experts have tried to pinpoint factors such as genetics, sex, race or socioeconomics that may predispose someone to alcohol addiction, but it has no single cause. Psychological, genetic and behavioral factors all can contribute to having the disease.
A big part of the work of Alcohol Awareness Month is to point out the stigma that still surrounds alcoholism and substance abuse in general. Denial is a major characteristic of alcohol abuse, both from the person currently experiencing it and from friends and family members who are uncomfortable acknowledging the seriousness of the situation.
Alcohol addiction can show itself in a variety of ways and often can be difficult to recognize, but there are some key components to watch for:
- Increased quantity or frequency of use of alcohol
- Drinking at inappropriate times, such as first thing in the morning, or in inappropriate places, such as church or work
- Wanting to be where alcohol is present and avoiding situations where there is none
- Changes in friendships; someone with an alcohol addiction may choose friends who also drink heavily
- Avoiding contact with loved ones
- Hiding alcohol, or hiding while drinking
- Dependence on alcohol to function in everyday life
- Increased lethargy, depression or other emotional issues
- Legal or professional problems, such as an arrest or loss of a job
- Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
- Wanting to cut down on how much you drink or making unsuccessful attempts to do so
- Spending a lot of time drinking, getting alcohol or recovering from alcohol use
- Feeling a strong craving or urge to drink alcohol
- Failing to fulfill major obligations at work, school or home because of repeated alcohol use
- Continuing to drink alcohol even though you know it’s causing physical, social or interpersonal problems
- Giving up or reducing social and work activities and hobbies
- Using alcohol in situations where it’s not safe, such as when driving or swimming
- Developing a tolerance to alcohol so you need more to feel its effect or you have a reduced effect from the same amount
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms — such as nausea, sweating and shaking — when you don’t drink, or drinking to avoid these symptoms
Besides causing problems with relationships, work performance and productivity, excessive alcohol consumption also can cause major health issues that may include:
- Bleeding ulcers
- Complications to diabetes
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Sexual problems
- Birth defects
- Bone loss
- Vision problems
- Increased risk of cancer
- Suppressed immune function
- Inflammation of the liver and ultimately liver failure
If you realize that your alcohol use is interfering with your ability to do your job, damaging aspects of your life or health, and causing worry and pain in the lives of the ones you love but you just continue to drink, it might be time to reach out for help.
Or if a loved one is showing signs of alcohol abuse or dependence, it might be time to reach out to someone who can help.
There is help and hope!
To find a nearby specialist, you can call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or the HOPE Line at the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) at 1-800-622-2255.
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