April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Sometimes alcohol and the problems it can cause are overshadowed by substances that are deemed “more serious” due to their illegal status. Unfortunately, alcohol is also able to ruin lives, even though it’s easy to purchase legally.
Alcohol begins impacting people from a very young age, and it’s largely downhill from there. Though the legal age to buy alcohol is 21, many Americans admit that they began consuming alcohol much younger.
According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s fact sheet from 2018:
- 4.3 million young people between the ages of 12 and 20 reported binge drinking at least once in the past month.
- About 1,825 college students die from unintentional alcohol related injuries per year.
- About 25 percent of college students meet the criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder.
- About 88,000 adults die alcohol-related deaths each year in the United States, making it the third leading cause of preventable death in the country.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that alcohol contributes to over 200 different diseases and injury-related health conditions.
Alcohol’s Long-Term Impacts
According to WebMD, long-term alcohol abuse can lead to a variety of health issues, just a few of which are:
- Liver Damage – alcohol can kill liver cells and overpower the liver’s ability to do its job of clearing toxins like alcohol.
- Heart Disease – alcohol can increase the occurrence of fats and cholesterol, as well as blood clots.
- Brain Functioning/Seizures – the inability to think and speak clearly that are commonly associated with drunkenness can become permanent if alcohol abuse is persistent. Epilepsy can also develop as a result of alcohol abuse, and seizures may occur with sudden withdrawal.
- Cancer – because alcohol damages so many different parts of the body, there are many different types of cancer linked to alcohol abuse.
- Infections – in addition to weakening the liver, alcohol can also damage the rest of the body’s immune system.
- Digestive Issues – alcohol can cause inflammation to every part of the digestive system, including the stomach, esophagus and gut. It can also impact the intestines and pancreas.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggest a number of strategies communities can take, for preventing excessive alcohol use:
- Limiting how many establishments can sell alcohol within a given space\
- Taxing alcohol more heavily
- Limiting which days/hours alcohol may be sold
- Enhanced enforcement of laws meant to restrict minors from accessing alcohol
Individuals who wish to combat excess alcohol use are advised to:
- Be a good role model by limiting their own alcohol intake
- Follow the dietary guidelines for safe alcohol consumption
- Not serve alcohol to people who should not be drinking
- Be honest with their health care provider about their alcohol consumption and get help if recommended.
Certain people seem more inclined to developing problematic drinking habits. These people tend to have three things in common:
1. As a child, their parents/caregivers weren’t especially attached to them.
2. They weren’t parented very well, if at all.
3. They had a caregiver who used substances.
This does not mean that all children who share these traits will grow up to develop problematic drinking habits. These are simply things that, when taken together, indicate increased likelihood for alcohol dependency later in life.
While alcohol can have immense negative impacts, there is always hope for recovery and many different ways for a person to get help. For a lot of people, talking to their doctor or calling a treatment program is the first step they take on their recovery journey. A therapist might also be able to help in identifying problem drinking.
Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery or Celebrate Recovery also often help in the early stages of recovery from alcohol use disorder. There isn’t one universal starting point that everyone uses because every recovery journey is slightly different.
If you or a loved one are struggling with problem drinking, The Aviary Recovery Center has a team of trained professionals who are ready to help you determine how to best start on a fresh journey, free from alcohol.