Although April is Alcohol Awareness month, it is important to do more than just spend one month focusing on the damage that alcohol can do to someone’s health, their lives, and the lives of their loved ones. Alcohol has been a staple of American culture for practically as long as America has existed. While there has been a lot of discussion about the dangers associated with alcohol use and abuse, there is still a huge stigma around alcoholism. One month a year isn’t enough to get rid of that.
The main ingredient in beer, wine, and liquor is ethyl alcohol—a very similar compound to what is used in ethanol-based gasolines! According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a standard drink of alcohol is equal to 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol or its equivalents in 12 ounces of beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor. Alcohol will affect men and women differently based on body weight, amount of alcohol consumed, and the time in which the consumption took place. However, alcohol intoxication—including decreased inhibitions, slurred speech, and loss of motor coordination—is a common outcome of drinking alcohol.
In addition to the discomfort of alcohol intoxication and the resulting “hang over,” chronic alcohol consumption can lead to severe damage to your body. Alcohol is quickly absorbed into the blood stream, mostly from the stomach and small intestine, and affects every part of your body. The most commonly and severely affected organs include the brain, heart, liver, and pancreas. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, chronic alcohol consumption can lead to health problems such as an irregular heartbeat, stroke, high blood pressure, alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and pancreatitis. Additionally, research has shown that chronic alcohol consumption can increase your chances of developing cancer of the mouth, esophagus, throat, and liver. Drinking alcohol can also increase your chances of getting ill—chronic drinkers are at high risk for pneumonia and tuberculosis.
While some people drink only once in a while, alcoholism is characterized by a strong desire or craving for alcohol which can cause damage to one’s mental and physical health, work and personal relationships. There is strong evidence that genetics plays a role in the development of alcoholism, but this doesn’t mean that everyone who is predisposed will develop alcoholism. However, individuals who have a parent or other close family members who are alcoholic may have a higher risk of developing alcoholism themselves.
Statistics regarding alcohol abuse—and early signs of alcoholism—are scary. In a 2015 survey, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that 42% of 10th graders had tried alcohol in the past year, while 21% of 8th graders had. In a study in 2014, the NIDA reported that 30% of individuals aged 12-17 had tried alcohol in their lifetime. For individuals who were 26 or older, that number was 88%. Other statistics are equally alarming. The Huffington Post, in 2015, reported that alcohol abuse is the third highest cause of death in the United States, with 100,000 people dying each year from an alcohol related cause.
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, you can reach out for help at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).