Most people know that drinking too much may harm their health, though most don’t know that alcohol addiction may have negative effects on their physical, mental and emotional health. It may also disrupt family relationships and cause lasting emotional pain. Alcohol use has become so normalized in social settings that many individuals and families experience these harmful consequences. It is worth examining how excessive drinking happens, how it can lead to nasty consequences, and how it can be prevented.
Defining Excessive Drinking
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a standard drink contains 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. If one drinks more than a 12-ounce beer or 5-ounce glass of wine, they could be consuming more alcohol than is strictly healthy.
On a behavioral level, excessive drinking happens when people engage in two main types of activities: binge drinking and heavy drinking. The former is defined by how much alcohol is consumed on a single occasion, while the latter by how much alcohol is consumed in a week.
Certain populations should not be drinking any alcoholic beverages at all, including individuals who are younger than age twenty-one, pregnant women, drivers, individuals using prescription drugs, and those with certain medical conditions.
Warning Signs of Alcohol Dependence
Not every excessive drinker develops alcohol dependence. Among these people, continued, excessive alcohol consumption may lead to withdrawal syndrome which increases their dependence. People who drink excessively for a long time tend to eventually experience mental distress, psychological discomfort, heightened nervous system activation, rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, excessive sweating, and shaking.
Many people believe these symptoms can only be soothed by consuming more alcohol. Like drug addiction, alcoholism produces withdrawal-related anxiety which reflects neurological changes in the brain. The body’s stress response system has been altered. The cycle of withdrawal, stress, and relapse is a vicious one.
Alcoholism Brings Safety Risks
Excessive alcohol use can bring immediate safety risks, such as motor vehicle accidents, injuries, falls, and drownings. It may also lead to risky sexual behaviors with lasting complications, such as sexually transmitted diseases. In some cases, intoxication can also cause compulsive and even violent behaviors, potentially leading to homicide or sexual assaults.
High blood alcohol levels may lead to alcohol poisoning, which is a medical emergency. Pregnant women who drink alcohol excessively may experience miscarriage or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).
Long-Term Health Risks of Alcohol Use Disorder
People who drink excessively for a long time can develop chronic diseases that endanger their overall health. The most common illnesses include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems. Alcohol use disorder may also increase the risk of breast cancer, liver cancer, and colon cancer. Most importantly, it weakens the immune system, causing people’s overall health to deteriorate.
Because alcoholism changes brain structures in the same way as drug addiction, people with alcohol use disorder may experience memory problems, including dementia and cognitive impairment. Even in the short term, alcohol affects areas of the brain that control cognitive, emotional, and motor functions. Without intervention, the brain can be permanently damaged by chronic alcohol abuse.
The Behavioral Risks of Alcoholism
Alcohol itself is a depressant that disrupts the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. Someone who is addicted to alcohol may feel relaxed after a drink or two, but that is only because the brain has been under stress caused by chronic alcohol abuse in the first place. Chemical changes in the brain can also prevent people from properly expressing or processing emotions.
Such chemical alterations in a person with alcoholism often lead to deteriorating communication skills and outbursts of anger. Because alcohol use disorder may cause emotional and mental health problems, people who have an alcohol dependence may develop behaviors that make them unable to fulfill job responsibilities and maintain healthy relationships.
In the home environment, alcoholism is often related to verbal or physical abuse. Acts of verbal abuse, including name-calling, insults, or threats, are very harmful. Children who live with parents who suffer from alcoholism may experience low self-esteem and depression. Exposure to parental alcohol addiction also increases these children’s risk of excessive alcohol consumption in the future.
Alcohol addiction not only harms the body and impairs cognitive functions, it also leads to neglect of important duties in work and family life. Like drug addiction, people who excessively consume alcohol may think that alcohol will help them deal with life’s common stressors. As they continue to drink to the point of intoxication, alcohol dependence can become a slippery slope leading to an all-consuming addiction.
Do you know about the harmful effects of alcohol addiction? If you or a loved one frequently drinks to the point of intoxication, it may be time to intervene before things get out of control. If you are using alcohol to deal with stress in life, seek support from health professionals who can help you manage stress. For many people, chronic stress can lead to alcohol use disorder as they use alcohol to numb their feelings. You can manage stress while living a sober life. At Laguna Shores Recovery, we have experienced mental health professionals who can coach you through recovering from addiction and managing stress. Do not let drinking take over your life. Schedule an appointment with us today to discover how our residential treatment center, 12-Step groups, and variety of therapeutic options can help you overcome addiction. Call us at 866-934-5276.