By Michelle Conway
Alcohol is one of the most popular recreational drugs available in the United States. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse occur when an individual drinks excessive amounts on a regular basis. Several factors play a role in the development of alcohol dependency, including one’s genetics, social environment, emotional health, and early childhood discipline. Some racial and ethnic groups have a tendency to develop alcohol addiction more than others, including Native Alaskans and Native Americans. People with family members who have fallen victim to alcohol addiction may also develop drinking problems. Lastly, those who suffer from a physical or mental health problems may self-medicate with alcohol to help lessen the anxiety, depression, or lack of self-confidence they feel without it.
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse starts when an individual fails to draw the line between social and binge drinking. A night out with a few beers over conversation may turn into an intoxicating blackout. In fact, it does not take much alcohol to cause problems. In the United States, a standard drink contains about 0.6 fluid ounces of pure alcohol. This greatly differs between the different types of beer, wine, and liquor offered for consumption. For instance, many light beers have almost the same amount of alcohol as regular beer, which contains about 5 percent alcohol by volume. A 5 ounce glass of wine typically contains about 12 percent alcohol by volume. A 1.5 ounce shot of liquor contains about 40 percent alcohol by volume. It is recommended to read the labels on any canned or bottled beverage before drinking it.
The effects of alcohol intoxication increase with each consecutive beverage that an individual consumes. Its effects vary among users; however, the amount consumed stays within an individual’s blood stream. An individual’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the percentage of alcohol found in the blood. It is used as a common measurement of intoxication for medical or legal purposes. An increase in BAC levels drastically lowers the perception of the drinker. Most U.S. states have very strict drinking and driving laws and officers incorporate the use of breathalyzer tests to measure a person’s BAC. If it is determined that a driver has alcohol in their system, they are subject to arrest for a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) or Driving Under the Influence (DUI) charge. A BAC level higher than .10 can lead to loss of motor coordination, good judgment, and reaction time. In fact, BAC levels in excess of 0.16 may cause disorientation, sensory impairment, coma, and even death. Blood alcohol concentration levels are subject to various factors, including an individual’s age, weight, and gender.
Alcohol is the most commonly abused drug among teens in the United States, even more so than tobacco, or other types of drugs. Oftentimes, teens will binge drink and lose control. Studies have proven that teens consume more drinks per occasion that adult drinkers, putting them at an increased risk for issues like alcohol poisoning or blackouts. Other risks associated with underage drinking include higher risk or problems in school, legal problems, sexual or physical assault, and many others.
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse tend to go unnoticed at first. One of the first signs of alcohol abuse is feeling guilty or ashamed. Family and friends may express concern over a user’s drinking habits. Substance abusers may lie to friends and family about their problem. Another sign of alcohol dependency is feeling the need to drink in order to feel relaxed or feel better. This may lead to drinking more than one intended. In severe cases, one might start to forget what they did while they were drinking. All of these serve as indicators that a potential drinking problem exists.
Long-term alcohol abuse can cause serious health complications if left unchecked. It can cause severe damage to every vital organ in the human body, including the brain. Problem drinking can also damage one’s reputation, emotional stability, financial security, career, and relationships. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse can have a negative impact on family, friends, co-workers, and especially children. Not to mention the endless social consequences that could lead to disastrous conclusions, such as domestic violence, unemployment, and poverty. The burden that this has on one’s family is endless.
Alcoholics and alcohol abusers who seek out help can receive the proper treatment. A plethora of opportunities await those who wish to conquer their demons. Some treatment options may include self-help programs, group therapy, detoxification, and inpatient rehabilitation. The most important aspect to recovery lies in admitting the existence of a problem. The following steps require time, patience, and dedication to abstain from alcohol for good. The journey is easier when others offer their encouragement, comfort, and guidance. Without the proper support network, it can be easy to fall back into the same old patterns when things get tough.
Follow access thselinks to gain a better understanding of alcohol and recovery facilitation to to LINKS Menu and click on A GUIDE TO ALCOHOL ABUSE AND RECOVERY listed under Other Resources:
Understanding Alcohol: A Teacher’s Guide
Teenage Drinking: Understanding the Dangers and Talking to Your Child
Medicinenet.com: Alcohol and Teens
NYC Health Bulletin: How Much Is Too Much? (PDF)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Alcohol and Public Health
College Drinking: How to Cut Down on Your Drinking
Risky Business: An Interaction Alcohol Education Flash Game
NIH Senior Health: Alcohol Use and Older Adults
The Arizona Department of Health Services: Alcohol Awareness Sheet (PDF)
Girls Health: Straight Talk About Alcohol
Stop Alcohol Abuse: Myths Facts Sheet on Alcohol (PDF)
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD): Drunk Driving
The Century Council: Drunk Driving Fatalities National Statistics
The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS): Just One Night: Drinking and Driving
Be Responsible About Driving (BRAD): Estimated BAC Information
The International Center for Alcohol Policies: Blood Alcohol Concentration Limits
Southern California Public Radio: What’s the Difference Between a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Level of .08 and .05?
The American Academy of Family Physicians: Alcohol Abuse: How to Recognize Problem Drinking
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Independence, Inc.: Am I An Alcoholic?
FamilyDoctor.org: An Overview on Alcohol Abuse
Health Risks and Benefits of Alcohol Consumption (PDF)
KidsHealth: Kids and Alcohol
Alcohol: Problems and Solutions
Mayo Clinic: If You Drink Alcohol, Keep it Moderate
Facts About Drug and Alcohol Addiction, Treatment, Recovery and Use (PDF)
The New York Times: Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse Health Guide
West Virginia University: The High Cost of Drinking and Driving
Peralta Colleges: Alcohol Impairment Chart (PDF)
Harvard University: Drinking and Diving Among College Students (PDF)
New Jersey Institute of Technology: Drinking and Driving (PDF)
By Michelle Conway