Alcohol Abuse and You

Alcohol abuse refers to the use of alcoholic beverages to excess on individual occasions, also known as binge drinking, or as a regular practice. Unlike the alcohol addict, the alcohol abuser doesn’t have such strong craving for alcohol and he is still in power to control his drinking.

Even though he drinks too much and too often, he is not yet physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol. An abuser is more of a problematic drinker, which makes the alcohol abuse treatment focused on personal resources and less on medication.

Signs of abusing alcohol

The signs of alcohol abuse are more behavioral, with implications in his social life rather than physical. Alcohol abusers:

  • fail to fulfill their job commitments, family responsibilities; they have poor work performance, get suspended from school, neglect their children or households;
  • put themselves in physically hazardous situations, such as operating with machines or driving while impaired;
  • have regular legal problems;
  • have interpersonal problems, arguments with their partner, physical fights, divorce etc.

When are you in danger of abusing alcohol?

In general terms, a man who consumes more than 14 alcoholic drinks per week or more than 3 drinks per occasion or woman who has more than 7 alcoholic drinks per week or more than 4 drinks per occasion is abusing alcohol.

Health organizations state that men should consume no more than 3-4 drinks per day and women no more than 2-3 drinks per day. However, some medical experts believe these levels are too high, and recommend no more than 3 drinks of alcohol a day for men and 2 per day for women.

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Consequences of abusing alcohol

  • Brain: the brain is the most affected by alcohol, suffering from reduced amount of oxygen, vitamins and brain tissues. There are three noticeable effects of this: memory loss, confusion, and augmentation (hyper-alertness to normal situations, perceiving light as brighter and sounds as louder).
  • Liver: some of the most serious effects of drinking alcohol include hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), fatty liver (which may lead to hepatitis or cirrhosis), and hyperlipemia (which leads to heart problems).
  • Heart: drinking often leads to irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure. The heart can be affected by the vitamin deficiencies caused by a neglected diet. The pumping action of the heart is weakened and heart failure can result from this.
  • Gastrointestinal: drinking affects the stomach, the small and large intestines, and the pancreas. Many drinkers experience gastritis or stomach ulcer. Alcohol has a big impact on pancreas also. Alcohol causes a growth of blood sugar and pancreas responses by producing insulin, which leads to hypoglycemia – a fast drop of sugar in the blood. In time, the pancreas may stop producing insulin and can cause diabetes.
  • Reproductive system: drinking can cause sexual dysfunction such as impotence, infertility and breast cancer for women.
  • Effect of alcohol on pregnancy and unborn babies: pregnant women who drink face a big risk of delivering a baby with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: small heads, possible brain damage, abnormal facial features, poor muscle tone, speech and sleep disorders and retarded growth and development.
  • Psychological: depression, anxiety, and antisocial personality.

Cutting down on drinking

Treating alcohol abusers refers more to the personal resources and abilities to deal with sobriety, and less to pharmacological cure. An alcohol abuser should have the courage to admit he has a drinking problem before he gets even worse and becomes addicted. Here are some tips that may help them stay away from drinking:

  • use alcohol free drinks;
  • spend time with family and friends who do not drink, to keep their mind away from alcohol;
  • avoid alcohol at least 2-3 days a week in the beginning;
  • drink slowly and have more soft drinks between alcoholic ones;
  • set drinking goals and limits and try not to cross them; if this happens don’t get discouraged but start again;
  • find other ways to relax;
  • examine situations when there’s an urge to drink and find out what is driving that urge;
  • develop new ways of handling problems.

Some people who have stopped drinking after experiencing alcohol-related problems choose to attend local Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for information and support.

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