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Too Much of a Good Thing – Alcohol Abuse

Get control of alcohol abuse before it controls you. Get control of alcohol abuse before it controls you.

You like partying with the guys; going out to the clubs and drinking until dawn. You revel in living the wild life and joke about your hangover with pride. Perhaps you feel you’ve got your drinking under control and alcoholism is the farthest thing from your mind...but should it be?


Between 14 and 17 million Americans (1 in 13) have a problem with alcohol, and millions more are developing habits that will lead to alcoholism. About 50% of American adults have been affected by alcohol abuse or dependence in their family – so if you’ve escaped the clutches of alcoholism yourself, chances are you’re familiar with someone who has not.

Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse

Alcoholism is a disease; a chronic condition that lasts a person’s entire lifetime. The craving an alcoholic feels for alcohol can be as intense as the need for food and water, and he or she will continue to drink despite serious family, health, or legal problems. Alcoholism is only one type of alcohol problem; alcohol abuse is often just as harmful. You can abuse alcohol without being an alcoholic, which may make it difficult for family and friends to intervene. Someone who drinks too much but has the capability to stop when he/she wants to may believe they don’t have a problem because they're not technically an alcoholic.

Recognizing Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse is a pattern of drinking involving one or more of the following problems within a one-year period:

  • Drinking in physically dangerous situations, such as while driving
  • Failure to carry out major responsibilities at work, school, or home
  • Legal problems associated with using alcohol
  • Continued drinking in spite of ongoing problems in relationships as a result of alcohol use

Alcohol abuse does not involve physical dependence on alcohol, but if it is not treated it can lead to alcohol dependence or alcoholism. Someone who is at risk of developing serious problems with alcohol usually has more than 14 drinks per week or more than 4 drinks per sitting (7 drinks per week, 3 per sitting for women).

Harmful Effects of Alcohol Abuse on Your Body

Misuse of alcohol has short-term and long-term effects. Drinking too much may cause an upset stomach, diarrhea, insomnia, lack of coordination and judgment, headaches, and vomiting. As you drink more and more, it takes an increased amount of alcohol to give the same effect. Raising your tolerance level is dangerous because it can lead to alcohol dependence and serious withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol abuse affects your entire body. Long-term consequences include:

  • Heart disease, heart damage, heart failure
  • Cancer
  • Liver problems, liver damage, hepatitis
  • Impotence and infertility
  • Malnutrition
  • Insomnia
  • Infections
  • Mental disorders – depression, mood swings, anxiety
  • Problems with stomach, kidney, lungs, skin, muscle and bones


Harmful Effects of Alcohol Abuse on Family and Friends

Often, the alcohol abuser undergoes a personality transformation as soon as they start drinking. While in a sober state, the person may be a productive member of society, a loving father and husband, a wife and mother, a caring friend. However, as soon as they start drinking heavily, they at times become abusive and start to behave in an objectionable manner. They become loud and argumentative, prone to committing acts of verbal abuse, sometimes culminating in physical violence. The serious drinker might have blackouts, when he or she has no memory of his/her actions the next day. After they sober up, they usually turn sheepish and apologize profusely, until the next incident involving abuse of alcohol.

How to Help

Alcoholism and alcohol abuse can cause financial stress and end relationships. It damages not only the abuser, but the friends and family who care about him. If you have a problem with alcohol now is the time to seek help; the longer you wait, the harder it will be to overcome. If you suspect someone you know is abusing alcohol, it can be intimidating to offer help. But don’t wait until he or she hits rock bottom – by then it may be too late. Have an honest conversation with the abuser and be specific about your concerns. Mention exact dates when you noticed your friend or family member overindulging, and the results that followed. Stop covering up for him or her, or making excuses; this may help the abuser realize the full consequences of his/her actions.

For more details on how to help someone with an alcohol problem, call the National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center at 1-800-662-HELP. You will be referred to a treatment program in your community, and can talk to a specialist for advice.

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If we could only see what we look like to others when we get drunk...
Last modified on Wednesday, 10 October 2012 15:15

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