Alcohol consumption is so ingrained in the collective consciousness of American society, it’s hard to imagine life without it. What would a wedding be without a champagne toast to the bride and groom? Is a dinner party even possible without a cocktail or a glass of wine? And what about that institution known as “happy hour”? Is happiness even possible without a few drinks with friends?
Sports stars and celebrities alike tout the glories of alcohol, which — if advertising contains even an ounce of truth — makes life more satisfying and those who imbibe more interesting, more athletic, more attractive and more fun.
It’s no wonder that nationwide, more and more people are struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction. When more than 10 percent of children nationwide live with a parent who struggles with alcohol problems, it’s high time to begin taking a harder look at the use and misuse of a drug that’s perfectly legal but as addictive and deadly as any illegal counterpart.
The DNA of Drinking: Genetic Predisposition
While there is no singular cause of alcohol abuse, dependence or alcoholism, the most important risk factor is family history. Common factors like the age one starts drinking, social environment, the availability of alcohol, the health of primary relationships and mental health all point to the potential for abuse, but scientific research clearly shows that the largest root of the disease lies in one’s genetic makeup. Some research even suggests that more than half the risk lies in the gene pool.
Genetically speaking, however, children of alcoholics are not destined to repeat the addictive behavior of their parents. A greater potential for addiction may exist, but genetic predisposition need not derail individual choice. As long as individuals choose to regulate their consumption of alcohol with greater caution because of their family history, breaking the cycle is possible. For some, that will mean abstinence. For others, moderation will be key. For others, a few drinks will turn into more drinks, and more drinks more often.
Walking the Line
Researchers and doctors have studied for years the disparity between people who can drink responsibly and those who cannot. Advertising for the $540 million-dollar alcohol industry encourages responsible drinking. Truthfully, though, most people do not know where the line is between “responsible drinking” and irresponsible, heavy drinking.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines moderate drinking as one drink per day for a woman, two drinks per day for a man. Heavy drinking is consuming more than three drinks in a day or seven in a week for a woman, and four in a day or 15 in a week for a man.
One out of four deaths between 20-39 is alcohol-related.
These defining limits, rarely represented in popular media, are not based on some super-conservative ideology held over from Prohibition. On the contrary, these limits are based on the levels of alcohol consumption associated with serious health issues such as cancer and cirrhosis of the liver. Heavy drinking, even before alcohol addiction sets in, wreaks havoc on the human body.
- It’s likely you are abusing alcohol if drinking-related behavior has resulted in any of the following issues:
- Endangering the physical well-being of yourself or others (driving while “buzzed,” physical violence or injury)
- Trouble with the law (DUI, public intoxication, etc.)
- Stress or turmoil in your relationships as a result of drinking
- Negative impact on work or school performance
When these types of results continue overtime, the problem is even more serious than abuse. What you’re experiencing is alcohol dependence.
Top Causes of Alcohol Addiction
- Alcoholism is a complex, progressive disease with no single root cause. But there are certain risk factors and behaviors make alcohol abuse and addiction more likely. These are at the top of the heap:
- An alcoholic parent
- A diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issue like depression, bipolar, anxiety, PTSD or schizophrenia
- A family situation or culture in which alcohol use is commonplace and approved
- A high level of work, financial or relational stress
- In youth, peer pressure
- Low self-esteem
- Other substance abuses/dependence
- More than 15 drinks per week if you’re male
- More than 12 drinks per week if you’re female
- Binge drinking (more than five drinks per day) once a week
- A high tolerance for alcohol (drinking more to feel the effects)
- The Danger of the Binge
Excessive and binge drinking have serious negative health consequences at any age. For the young, it’s a grim predictor of present and future trouble. Research reported by the CDC and in various medical journals has shown that underage drinking increases serious risk factors such as academic failure, fatal and non-fatal injuries, risky sexual behavior, depression, suicide and even homicide. Data also confirms that the use of alcohol before age 15 dramatically increases the likelihood of alcohol dependence later in life compared to those who don’t drink until age 21.
Binge drinking, as defined by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), is a pattern of alcohol consumption that increases the blood alcohol level to .08 percent or more on a single occasion, generally within two hours. According to the 2014 NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health), approximately 5.3 million people between the ages of 12–20 were binge drinkers (15.8 percent of males and 12.4 percent of females). Alcohol misuse is the leading cause of death and disability between the ages of 15-49. Approximately 25 percent of deaths among 20-39 year olds are alcohol-related.
The effects of alcohol are different for each person, dependent on such variables as age, weight, gender and overall health. The consequences, literally from pre-cradle to grave, are dire:
Fetal alcohol syndrome in the unborn and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in newborns. Unintentional injuries, such as motor-vehicle traffic crashes, sexual assault, falls, drowning, burns, firearm injuries and death. Violence, such as child abuse, homicide and suicide. Chronic diseases such as liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis high blood pressure, psychological disorders and various cancers, including liver, mouth, throat, larynx and esophagus cancer.
One thing is indisputable: Alcohol, in any amount, has an effect on the brain. Over time and with greater use, alcohol abuse can do significant, irreparable harm to the human body, as the brain’s ability to process alcohol inhibits cognitive decision-making, paving the way for addiction and alcoholism.
Recognizing the Signs of Alcohol Addiction
Alcoholism begins when a person no longer drinks occasionally or in a casual atmosphere. People who abuse alcohol may have similar symptoms to full-blown alcoholism, so it’s important to understand the signs and symptoms to know when you or your loved one needs to seek treatment. Some of the things to look for include:
- The inability to limit their intake of alcohol
- Feeling a strong need or compulsion to drink
- Developing a tolerance and needing more to feel good
- Having legal problems, problems with relationships and financial problems as a result of alcohol
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they don’t drink
- Drinking in secret
Once these behaviors begin, it’s time to seek the help necessary to get back to sobriety. Treatment for alcoholism varies from detox, rehabilitation and hospitalization to counseling, support groups and more. The goal of each method is to help you stop drinking altogether and get your life back.
It’s never too late to take the first step. Here at Talbott Recovery we stand ready with answers to your questions.