Alcohol is part of cultures and family traditions all over the world. However, many people excessively use alcohol. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, excessive alcohol use results in approximately 88,000 deaths in the United States alone; 2.5 million years of potential life lost; and shortening of lives of up to 30 years on average. Furthermore, excessive drinking causes 1 out of 10 deaths among people 20 to 64 years old. Not surprisingly, an estimated $223.5 billion was spent for alcohol in 2006 alone, and these figures continue to increase.

Alcohol Problem Vs. Alcohol Dependency

Drinking problems can begin with a single night with friends to frequent bar hopping. It is recognized as a problem when it gets in the way of things that are supposed to be more important such as family, friends, academics and work. Drinking issues are not often related to the frequency or the amount of alcohol consumed but rather its effects on the life of the person involved.

Alcohol dependency is progressive. It tends to get worse over time. According to the University of Notre Dame – Centre for Student Health Promotion and Well-Being, alcohol dependency is characterized by several withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, increased hand tremor, high pulse rate, vomiting, nausea, transient hallucinations (visual, tactile or auditory), anxiety, seizures and psycho-motor agitation. The following are other symptoms of alcohol problems:

  1. Increased alcohol tolerance.An alcoholic tends to have increased tolerance and need to be intoxicated. In most cases, the same amount will not affect an alcoholic like it used to.
  2. Unintended alcohol use. Another criteria for alcohol abuse is unintended use of alcohol for larger amounts or longer periods, such as drinking to the point of passing out. Despite attempts to cut down or control use, they are often unsuccessful.
  3. Decreased time in activities not related to alcohol use. Alcoholics find heavy drinkers as friends. They miss their classes, mess up at work, or spend less time in recreational activities.
  4. Continued alcohol use despite increasing personal issues. Alcohol abuse causes a lot of problems and they are made worse by continued alcohol use. In the long run, alcohol abuse causes depression, personality change, suicidal tendencies, personality change, health problems, legal problems, relationship issues and mood swings.

The following are indicators or misuse or abuse of alcohol dependency:

  • Repeated intoxication
  • Usage to stop withdrawal symptoms
  • Denial of frequency or seriousness of alcohol usage
  • Pattern of frequent hangover and illness
  • Digestive disturbances
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Passing out
  • Decreased interest about appearance and grooming
  • Abnormalities of the eyes, skin, speech and coordination
  • Reduced emotional control
  • Anxious reactions
  • Self-abusive behaviour
  • Forgetfulness
  • Poor judgment
  • Depression
  • Irresponsible behaviour
  • Self-esteem problems

How Much is Too ‘Much’?

It can then be difficult to determine when you are starting to drink too much. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a standard drink is 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol content); 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol content); 8 ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content); or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (40% alcohol content) such as vodka, wine, whiskey or gin.

A woman who drinks more than 3 at one time or more than 7 drinks per week, or a man who drinks more than 4 drinks at a time or more than 14 drinks in a week’s time is already defined as “binge drinking”.

Heaving drinking, according to the CDC, is consuming 8 or more drinks per week for women or 15 drinks per week for men.

Health Risks

Excessive use of alcohol poses many types of health conditions. The following are most often the result of heavy or binge drinking:

  • Injuries from vehicle accidents, drowning, falls and burns
  • Violence including sexual assault and suicide
  • Memory and learning problems; dementia
  • Cancer of the mouth, breast, esophagus, throat, colon and liver
  • Mental health problems
  • High blood pressure, anemia, stroke, liver diseases and heart diseases and death
  • Miscarriage and stillbirth for pregnant women

For pregnant women, alcohol can damage a developing fetus as it affects every organ in the body. It can also impair motor skills and brain functions. Heavy use increases the risk of liver diseases, cancers, stroke and certain cancers. Alcohol problems lead to alcohol abuse, which then leads of alcoholism and harms a person’s health, personal relationships and ability to work.

Excessive drinking is never good. People with warning signs of alcoholism should be checked by a doctor and treated as this could lead to more serious health problems that can ruin their future permanently.