Wednesday, April 6, 2016
When I speak to a room full of college students, I often say, “Raise your hand if you have never been affected by excessive alcohol use – never by you, a family member, a friend, or an acquaintance.” I’ve been posing that scenario since the 1990s and have yet to have anyone raise a hand. Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in America. It affects the economy, society, and family. According to the CDC, excessive alcohol use is responsible for approximately 88,000 deaths annually in the U.S. and $249 billion in economic costs including healthcare, workplace productivity, vehicle collision, and criminal justice costs. Approximately, 2,200 Americans died last year from alcohol poisoning; that is six deaths per day. Out of those 2,200, 75% were adults ages 35-64 and 75% were men. April is Alcohol Awareness Month and a perfect time to reflect on the definition of alcohol abuse, the staggering health consequences, and preventive measures.
An alcoholic drink is measured in quantity and alcohol percentage. Because distilled spirits such as vodka or whiskey contain a higher percentage of alcohol, their serving sizes are smaller. So a 12 ounce beer, an 8 ounce malt liquor, a 5 ounce wine and a 1.5 ounce distilled spirit are all considered one serving. Contrary to popular opinion, most people who drink excessively are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent. Most U.S. adults, who drink, do not drink every day. It is therefore, more important, to look at the amount a person drinks on the days he or she drinks. Excessive use can be the result of binge or heavy drinking by people who cannot drink in moderation.
Moderate drinking is defined as one drink per day for a woman or two per day for a man; however, excessive alcohol use includes the following:
- Binge drinking – 4 or more alcoholic beverages per occasion for a female or 5 or more drinks per occasion for a male
- Heavy drinking – consuming 8 or more alcoholic beverages per week for a female or 15 or more week for a male
- Any drinking by a pregnant woman
- Any drinking by a person under the age of 21
Whether an individual occasionally drinks excessively or drinks heavily every day, there are short and long-term health risks. The CDC lists the following short-term risks that are most often the result of binge drinking:
- Injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, and burns.
- Violence, including homicide, suicide, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence.
- Alcohol poisoning, a medical emergency that results from high blood alcohol levels.
- Risky sexual behaviors, including unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners. These behaviors can result in unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
- Miscarriage and stillbirth or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) among pregnant women.
Heavy drinking, on the other hand, can lead to development of long-term chronic diseases and other serious problems including:
- High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems.
- Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon.
- Learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor school performance.
- Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.
- Social problems, including lost productivity, family problems, and unemployment.
- Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism
While the health risks are clear, confusion abounds in the popular press regarding the potential health benefits of alcohol consumption. Not so many years ago, it was reported that alcohol is healthy for you, most notably red wine for the heart. Subsequent studies have called that wisdom into question. Between the years of 2009 and 2015, several researchers looked at the methodology and data from those original studies. The conclusion according to the CDC is that “Although past studies have indicated that moderate alcohol consumption has protective health benefits (e.g., reducing risk of heart disease), recent studies show this may not be true. While some studies have found improved health outcomes among moderate drinkers, it’s impossible to conclude whether these improved outcomes are due to moderate alcohol consumption or other differences in behaviors or genetics between people who drink moderately and people who don’t.” The current recommendation, therefore, is that no one should be drinking for potential health benefits; and if one drinks, it should be limited to one drink per day for women and two per day for men. In addition, some people should not drink at all including: pregnant women, anyone under the age of 21, those who have medical conditions that would worsen with alcohol, drivers or those participating in activities that require alertness and coordination, or anyone taking an over-the-counter medication or prescription that interacts adversely with alcohol.
For more information about recommended guidelines and risks, go to: http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/index.htm. To learn more about alcohol, its effects, and resources for you or a loved one, contact the Council on Alcohol and Substance Abuse of Livingston County at: http://casaoflc.org/ or call the CASA Geneseo office at 585-991-5012 or the Dansville office at 585-335-5052.