Too Much Alcohol: More Hazardous Than You Think
Did you know that the harmful effects of alcohol can possibly shorten your lifespan by 30 years? Drinking too much alcohol is severely detrimental to your health. Statistics indicate between the years 2006-2010, one in 10 people died from excessive drinking among working-age adults aged 20-64 years. Those numbers added up to around 88,000 deaths from 2006-2010 due to excessive alcohol consumption.
What is the definition of moderate drinking? It has been defined by some as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. One might then ask, what exactly is excessive drinking?
The two most prevalent types of excessive drinking are “binge drinking” and “heavy drinking.” Binge drinking has been described as four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men on one occasion. Heavy drinking has been referred to as having eight or more drinks per week for women and 15 or more drinks per week for men.
Excessive drinking often means a person takes part in heavy drinking or binge drinking on a regular basis. Binge drinking typically results in acute intoxication. Also, coma and death can occur if alcohol is consumed rapidly and in large amounts.
Are You Drinking Too Much Alcohol?
When someone is drinking too much, they may struggle to feel good without having alcohol in their system. Becoming easily stressed out often and having a hard time making decisions can be early warning signals. It is important to catch the signs as early as possible. Treatment professionals and researchers agree the earlier people seek treatment, the better chances of recovery they will have.
Alcohol is sneaky in that it can slowly get ahold of someone before they know it is happening. You or someone you know may be consuming too much alcohol. However, you or your loved one do not have to hit rock-bottom before realizing too much drinking is taking place. Be aware of the signs of drinking too much alcohol, because it is never too early, or too late, to seek help for a drinking problem.
Signs of Excessive Drinking
How does one know if he or she is drinking too much? It can be such a gradual process that it can be difficult to be aware of early. Signs of alcohol poisoning include passing out, confusion, vomiting, and lethargy. Many people experience gaps in memory loss. Temporary blackouts are common for those struggling with alcohol use. Excessive alcohol consumption could be the culprit if you notice yourself or your loved one having some of these common signs:
- Drinking every day — Someone thinks they cannot relax or function without having a drink every day.
- Always hungover in the morning — Moderate intake of alcohol does not usually produce this effect. However, being hungover the morning after alcohol consumption is an indication.
- Drinking alone — Someone who drinks alone more often than drinking with other people.
- Vomiting or getting sick while drinking — This indicates the blood alcohol level is excessively high and the body is trying to expel the alcohol from the body’s system. Overdrinking can lead to alcohol poisoning, which can lead to hospitalization.
- Drinking more than intended — Drinking more than just one or two drinks and NOT being able to stop drinking once they start drinking.
- Ignoring or putting off responsibilities — Putting drinking above one’s family, relationships, and other important social functions. Calling into work sick more often than is appropriate.
- Hiding alcohol/Stashing alcohol — Secretly drinking throughout the day. Having hidden stashes of alcohol in efforts to hide it from family and friends.
- Gaps in memory/Trouble remembering — Memory loss or temporary blackouts are common for those struggling with alcohol use. You may have trouble remembering meeting people, entire nights, eating, or going to bed.
- Confrontations about drinking habits — Friends, family, or even co-workers confronting someone about a drinking habit being apparent in their life.
- Symptoms of withdrawal — Once the alcohol begins to wear off, more drinking is required for one to avoid uncomfortable physical symptoms or feelings of withdrawal.
What are the Signs of Alcohol Addiction?
You or someone you love may also show some general signs of alcohol addiction. Even though alcohol addiction affects everyone differently, it is important to consider the following signs:
- Alcohol tolerance — When the body has adjusted to the amount of alcohol in its system and more alcohol is required to achieve the desired effect than before.
- Risky behaviors — Having open intoxicants in public places other than drinking establishments, drinking and driving, or other harmful behaviors that risk the health and safety of self and others.
- Change of appearance — Neglect of personal hygiene, looking sloppy, disheveled, and unclean more often than usual.
- No control over alcohol consumption — Drinking more alcohol than wanting to consume. Not being able to stop drinking alcohol despite all efforts.
- Pre-disposition to alcoholism — Having relatives, especially one’s biological mother or father, who suffered from alcohol use greatly increases the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.
- Withdrawal — Feeling unpleasant symptoms and sick when the effects of the alcohol wear off. These symptoms can include sweating, shaking, loss of appetite, fatigue, nausea, irritability, anxiety, and jumpiness.
- Continued use despite harmful consequences — Continued consumption of alcohol even though drinking causes problems in many aspects of life and health.
You or a loved one may suffer from alcohol use disorder if you identify with any of the above signs. Getting help or treatment for alcohol use disorder early can divert many of the negative impacts on one’s body, mind, health, and life.
Negative Health Risks from Excessive Drinking
Alcohol intoxication can be harmful for a variety of reasons. Many negative health effects associated with alcohol consumption in large amounts include an increased risk of negative damage to the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system. Some short-term negative health risks associated with excessive alcohol use occurring mostly from binge drinking are:
- Impaired brain function such as poor judgment, slurred speech, reduced reaction time, and loss of balance and motor skills
- Injuries or death from automobile crashes, burns, falls, cuts or drownings
- Risky sexual behaviors leading to STDs and unplanned pregnancies
- Violence in the form of homicides, suicides and sexual assaults
- Alcohol poisoning due to high-blood alcohol levels
- Miscarriage and stillbirth among pregnant women
- Alcohol use disorder
A few of the long-term risks and other harmful health problems associated with excessive alcohol use are learning problems, memory problems, a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, digestive issues, depression, heart disease, liver damage, stroke, cancer, pancreatitis, dementia, seizures, gout, social problems, family problems, unemployment, and alcoholism.
Other long-term effects of excessive alcohol use could be passed on to future generations due to neglect and having improper care and nutrition from a parent with excessive drinking habits. Alcohol disrupts the brain’s communication pathways and can affect the way the brain looks and functions. Alcohol consumption makes it harder for the brain to think clearly and this directly affects coordination skills.
Excessive drinking greatly weakens your immune system, making your body more susceptible to developing a disease. Heavy drinkers have less ability to fight off diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink excessively. Drinking a lot on a single occasion can substantially increase the risk of becoming sick.
Alcohol Use = Higher Risk for Cancers
Based on several research studies, there is a strong scientific agreement of an association between alcohol drinking and several types of cancer. Reviews of the studies from the National Cancer Institute suggest powerful evidence indicating that the more alcohol a person drinks — particularly the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time — the higher the risks of developing alcohol-associated cancer. In reported findings on carcinogens, the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists the intake of alcoholic beverages as a known human carcinogen. Definite associations have appeared between alcohol consumption and the development of many types of cancer, such as:
- Breast cancer: Studies have steadily found a higher risk of breast cancer associated with increased alcohol intake. Research indicates that women who consumed more than one drink per day increased the risk of developing breast cancer by approximately 12 percent.
- Liver cancer: The primary cause of liver cancer is alcohol consumption. The other major factors that cause liver cancer are chronic infections due to hepatitis B and/or C viruses.
- Esophageal cancer: Alcohol consumption is a major risk factor, especially for people who inherit a deficiency in an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol.
- Head and neck cancer: People who consumed three drinks of alcohol per day have a two to three times greater risk of developing these types of cancers than nondrinkers.
- Colorectal cancer: Alcohol consumption is associated with a slightly raised risk of cancers of the colon and rectum. People who regularly consume three alcoholic drinks per day had a 7 percent higher risk of developing colorectal cancer than a nondrinker or occasional drinker.
The risks of contracting alcohol-related cancers are substantially higher among persons who excessively consume alcohol and use tobacco products. For each of these cancers, the more alcohol you consume, the higher your cancer risk. But for many types of cancer, especially breast cancer, consuming even small amounts of alcohol can increase the risk. Alcohol can raise estrogen levels in the body, which may explain some of the increased risks.
Lower Your Risks
Excessive alcohol use includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, any alcohol use by people under the legal drinking age, and any alcohol use by pregnant women.
Severe alcohol use disorder is a chronic disease. Talk to your doctor or therapist if you think you have a problem with alcohol. You can reduce the risk of short- and long-term health risks by not drinking too much. Abstaining from alcohol is best when trying to avoid the harmful effects of alcohol use and the negative health risks it poses.
By Susan Way