Learn More About Alcohol Use

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What is alcoholism? Alcohol use disorder, which includes a level of drinking sometimes called alcoholism, is a pattern of alcohol use that involves one or more of the following:

  • Problems controlling your drinking
  • Being preoccupied with alcohol
  • Continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems
  • Having to drink more to get the same effect
  • Having withdrawal symptoms when you rapidly decrease or stop drinking

Unhealthy alcohol use includes any use that puts your or others’ health or safety at risk, or causes other alcohol-related problems:

  • It also includes binge drinking which causes significant health and safety risks. Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking where:
        • A male (biochemically) consumes five or more drinks within two hours
        • A female (biochemically) consumes at least four drinks within two hours
  • If your pattern of drinking results in repeated significant distress and problems functioning in your daily life, it is likely you have alcohol use disorder.
        • It can range from mild to severe
        • However, even a mild disorder can escalate and lead to serious problems, so early treatment is important
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  • It is chronic – it never goes away
  • It is progressive – it gets worse over time
  • It is fatal if left untreated

Alcohol use disorder can be mild, moderate or severe, based on the number of symptoms you experience. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • 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 due to 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 working
  • 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 or shaking when you don't drink, or drinking to avoid these symptoms

Alcohol use disorder can include periods of intoxication and symptoms of withdrawal

  • Intoxication results as the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream increases. The higher the blood alcohol concentration, the more impaired you become. Alcohol intoxication causes behavioral problems and mental changes. These may include:
        • Inappropriate behavior
        • Unstable moods
        • Impaired judgment
        • Slurred speech
        • Impaired attention or memory
        • Poor coordination
        • Periods called "blackouts" where you don't remember events
        • Coma or even death with very high blood alcohol levels
  • Alcohol withdrawal can occur when alcohol use has been heavy and prolonged and is then stopped or greatly reduced. It can occur within several hours to four or five days later. Signs and symptoms include:
        • Sweating
        • Rapid heartbeat
        • Hand tremors
        • Problems sleeping
        • Nausea and vomiting
        • Hallucinations
        • Restlessness and agitation
        • Anxiety
        • Occasionally seizures
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The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines one standard drink as any one of these:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer (about 5 percent alcohol)
  • 8 to 9 ounces of malt liquor (about 7 percent alcohol)
  • 5 ounces of wine (about 12 percent alcohol)
  • 5 ounces of 80-proof hard liquor (about 40 percent alcohol)

Impact on your safety:

Excessive drinking can reduce your judgment skills and lower inhibitions, leading to poor choices and dangerous situations or behaviors, including:

  • Accidents at work
  • Motor vehicle accidents and other types of accidental injury
  • Relationship problems
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Increased likelihood of committing violent crimes or being the victim of a crime
  • Legal problems or problems with employment or finances
  • Problems with other substance use
  • Engaging in risky, unprotected sex, or experiencing sexual abuse or date rape
  • Increased risk of suicide or attempted suicide 

Impact on your health:

Drinking too much alcohol on a single occasion, or over time, can cause health problems, including:

  • Liver disease
  • Digestive problems
  • Heart problems
  • Diabetes complications
  • Sexual dysfunction and menstruation issues
  • Eye problems
  • Brain changes that can lead to dementia
  • Birth defects such as fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Bone damage
  • Neurological complications
  • Weakened immune system
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Interactions with medication that decrease effectiveness or make them dangerous

Alcohol use disorder develops when a person takes a large quantity of alcohol leading to chemical changes in the brain.

  • These changes increase the euphoric feeling that is associated with alcohol
  • This makes a person want to take more drink despite the harm that alcohol causes
  • Alcohol use disorder develops gradually over time

Genetic, psychological, social and environmental factors can impact how drinking alcohol affects your body and behavior. Theories suggest that for certain people drinking has a different and stronger impact that can lead to alcohol use disorder. Risk factors that influence addiction include:

  • Genetic pre-disposition
  • Alcohol addicted parent
  • Starting to drink at a young age
  • Your environment – including direct or indirect social or peer pressure 
  • Mental health problems such as depression or anxiety

Over time, drinking too much alcohol may change the normal functioning of your brain associated with:

  • The experience of pleasure
  • Judgment
  • The ability to exercise control over your behavior
  • Increased cravings for alcohol to restore good feelings or reduce negative ones

Once you've been addicted to alcohol, you're at high risk of falling back into a pattern of addiction. If you do start using alcohol, it's likely you'll lose control over its use again — even if you've had treatment and you haven't used alcohol for some time.

  • Stick with your treatment plan. Monitor your cravings. It may seem like you've recovered and you don't need to keep taking steps to stay alcohol-free. But your chances of staying alcohol-free will be much higher if you continue seeing your therapist or counselor, going to support group meetings and taking prescribed medication.
  • Avoid high-risk situations. Don't go back to the places where you used to drink. And stay away from your old drinking crowd.
  • Get help immediately if you drink alcohol again. If you start drinking alcohol again, talk to your doctor, your mental health professional or someone else who can help you right away.

 

Behind the Scenes Foundation makes no representations or warranty whatsoever, either expressed or implied, regarding any information or advice provided by this training. In no event shall Behind the Scenes Foundation be liable to you or anyone else for any decision or action taken in reliance on information provided by this training.