Alcoholism is a serious concern in our society today. Not only does the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report an estimated 88,000 preventable alcohol-related deaths annually, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) also states that more than 15 million adults and 620,000 adolescents already have alcohol use disorder (AUD), characterized by an "impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences."
Drinking Too Much: Uncovering Disturbing New Data
A recent study involved 34,000 adults throughout the United States with the objective of studying transitions to and from at-risk alcohol use. Researchers collected data from the participants at two different intervals to monitor alcohol consumption levels.
Research has found that about 40 percent of U.S. adults consume enough alcohol to cause negative health consequences. The results include the following:
- 73 percent of those drinking risky amounts were still doing so 2-4 years later
- 15 percent of those not drinking risky amounts during the first survey interval, began to drink in excess by the second survey interval
"At-risk use" was defined as follows:
- for men, more than 14 drinks per week on average or more than four per occasion
- for women, "at-risk use" was categorized at seven drinks per week or more than three per occasion
The distinction between occasional drinking and drinking too much was based on the widely accepted diagnostic tool, Alcohol Use Disorder and Associated Disabilities Interview Schedule IV.
Predictors of At-Risk Alcohol Use
In general, there are a variety of reasons some individuals become addicted to alcohol. Peer pressure, genetics, low self-esteem, depression and other mental issues may lead to a greater risk for alcohol use disorder.
In this specific study, the process of transitioning to at-risk alcohol behavior was found to be associated with specific indicators. The strongest predictor of becoming an at-risk alcohol user was being of younger age, particularly among participants who were under the drinking age at the time of the first survey.
Other indicators included:
- being male
- identifying as White/Caucasian
- not being married
- becoming divorced or separated
- being in the military
- regular drug use
What Does Alcohol Do to Your Body?
The results of this latest investigation suggest that many who drink at high risk levels experience significant health issues and, without intervention, are likely to continue to do so. This behavior will have long-term implications on their quality of life unless there is an intervention.
Alcohol affects every organ in the body, and the consequences from abuse take a serious toll on health. Some of the most critical health issues caused by at-risk drinking include:
- Brain: Alcohol interferes with the brain’s function and communication pathways. These disruptions can lead to memory lapses, slurred speech, difficulty walking, mood changes and slowed reaction time.
- Heart: Drinking in excess over a long period of time or consuming too much on a single occasion can lead to cardiovascular damage including stroke and high blood pressure.
- Liver: One of the most commonly known effects of alcoholism are liver issues including cirrhosis, fatty liver and even alcoholic hepatitis.
- Pancreas: Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas.
- Cancer: Chronic alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers.
Too often, however, these dangerous health consequences are not enough to dissuade a person from excessive drinking. Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, is a disease that involves both physical and psychological addiction.
Individual paths to recovery differ. Therefore, treatments and services of at-risk alcohol disorders should be tailored to fit individual needs. Treatment programs that include counseling sessions, relapse prevention coaching, family assistance and group support can help with rehabilitation and recovery. Unfortunately, relapse rates for alcohol use are estimated to be 40-60 percent. Aftercare and lifelong support are necessary for recovering alcoholics to maintain a sober lifestyle.
The results of this latest research revealed methods for prevention such as screening and intervention, especially for those at high risk. In addition, investigators believe that public health and clinical messages need repeating, particularly for young adults. This latest study indicates specific demographics where mediation can be most effective.