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Alcohol consumption and risks

Learn more about the health risks associated with alcohol consumption, and the difference between alcoholism and alcohol abuse.

November 29, 2020

How does alcohol affect a person?

Alcohol affects every organ in the body. It is a central nervous system depressant that is rapidly absorbed from the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream. Alcohol is metabolized in the liver by enzymes, however, the liver can only metabolize a small amount of alcohol at a time, leaving the excess alcohol to circulate throughout the body. The intensity of the effect of alcohol on the body is directly related to the amount consumed.

What is the difference between alcoholism and alcohol abuse?

Alcohol abuse is a pattern of drinking that results in harm to one’s health, interpersonal relationships or ability to work.

Manifestations of alcohol abuse include the following:

  • Continued drinking despite ongoing relationship problems that are caused or worsened by drinking
  • Drinking in dangerous situations, such as drinking while driving or operating machinery
  • Failure to fulfill major responsibilities at work, school or home
  • Legal problems related to alcohol, such as being arrested for drinking while driving or for physically hurting someone while drunk
  • Long-term alcohol abuse can turn into alcohol dependence

Dependency on alcohol, also known as alcohol addiction and alcoholism, is a chronic disease. The signs and symptoms of alcohol dependence include:

  • A strong craving for alcohol
  • Continued use despite repeated physical, psychological or interpersonal problems
  • The inability to limit drinking

What health problems are associated with excessive alcohol use?

Excessive drinking both in the form of heavy drinking or binge drinking, is associated with numerous health problems, including:

  • Alcohol abuse or dependence
  • Chronic diseases such as:
    • Liver cirrhosis (damage to liver cells)
    • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
    • High blood pressure
    • Psychological disorders
    • Various cancers, including liver, mouth, throat, larynx (the voice box) and esophagus
  • Harm to a developing fetus if a woman drinks while pregnant, such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Unintentional injuries, such as motor-vehicle traffic crashes, falls, drowning, burns and firearm injuries
  • Violence, such as child maltreatment, homicide and suicide

How do I know if I have a drinking problem?

Drinking is a problem if it causes trouble in your relationships, in school, in social activities or in how you think and feel. If you are concerned that either you or someone in your family might have a drinking problem, consult your personal health care provider.

Youth and teenage drinking

Alcohol is widely available and aggressively promoted throughout society. It is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States — more than tobacco and illicit drugs — and although drinking by persons under the age of 21 is illegal, people aged 12 to 20 drink 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States.

Drinking guidelines

A standard drink is any drink containing about 14 grams of alcohol.

Note: Standard drink sizes and lower risk drink limit: NIAAA, rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov.

Standard drink size

A standard drink is:

  • 12 oz beer
  • 5 oz wine
  • 1.5 oz liquor

Lower risk drink limits

Men: occasion — 3, weekly — 7
Women: occasion — 4, weekly — 14
Over 65: occasion — 3, weekly — 7

What are the HealthONE hospitals doing to help our patients with substance abuse issues?

Our hospitals use the Screening, Brief, Intervention and Referral to Treatment — also referred to as SBIRT — approach. SBIRT treats substance use like the healthcare issue it is.

What is SBIRT?

SBIRT is a comprehensive, integrated, public health approach based on universal screenings. SBIRT creates awareness about America's number one preventable health issue — substance use. Standardized screenings serve as a powerful education tool about the health consequences of substance use.

SBIRT:

  • Can motivate people to change their behavior
  • Is proven to reduce the number of people who move from substance use to abuse and addiction
  • Has benefits that extend well beyond the user-to family, employers, law enforcement and the healthcare industry

Why SBIRT is a critical intervention strategy?

Risky use of alcohol and other drugs contributes to more than 70 diseases and leads to expensive, long-term health problems. Individuals who exceed the recommended guidelines for alcohol consumption face increased health risks even if they are not dependent on alcohol.

These include a risk increase for:

  • Anemia
  • Depression
  • Heart failure
  • High blood pressure
  • Inflammation of the pancreas
  • Liver damage
  • Some types of cancer
  • Ulcers
Published:
November 29, 2020

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