The dangers of alcohol use and abuse affect all aspects of peoples’ lives, including their health and safety, their ability to work, their job performance, as well as their social and family life, to name a few. As April is Alcohol Awareness Month, Enterhealth, a Dallas-based drug and alcohol addiction company, wants to help educate people and let them know that while alcohol addiction is one of the most prevalent forms of substance abuse, it also has the highest success rate when it comes to treatment.
In a 2014 study of alcohol dependence among adult drinkers in the U.S., The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that excessive alcohol consumption accounted for nearly one in 10 deaths among working-age adults in the U.S. aged 20 to 64. The same study also found that excessive alcohol use led to an estimated 88,000 deaths (approximately 70 percent men and 30 percent women) from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. Globally, alcohol use is the fifth leading risk factor for premature death and disability.
Who is at the Most Risk?
According to the CDC, nearly one in three adults are excessive drinkers, and most of them binge drink, usually on multiple occasions. In contrast, about one in 30 adults are classified as alcohol dependent, with rates of alcohol dependence increasing with the amount of alcohol consumed. For instance, about 10 percent of binge drinkers are alcohol dependent, while 30 percent of people who binge drink frequently (10 or more times a month) are or will become alcohol dependent.
Genetics and upbringing also factor into a person’s risk of developing an alcohol addiction. Alcoholism runs in families just like other chronic medical illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. Our genes certainly play a role in determining whether someone becomes an alcoholic or not, but genes themselves are not the only deciding factor. Research suggests that like most aspects of our personality and behavior, genetics account for approximately half of the risk, with environmental factors accounting for the remainder.
Research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), suggests that gender is also an important factor to consider when looking at the risks presented by excessive alcohol consumption. While men make up a higher percentage of alcoholics, its effects are much more detrimental to the health of women because women’s bodies absorb 50 percent more alcohol from each drink than men’s, and women metabolize alcohol differently than men do. The two primary reasons for these differences are that women tend to have less water in their bodies to dilute the alcohol, and they also have lower levels of alcohol dehydrogenase, an enzyme responsible for the breakdown of alcohol in the body.
Why is Alcoholism So Common?
Alcohol is unique in several ways; it’s legal, readily available, relatively inexpensive and socially acceptable. All of these factors contribute to alcohol being the most widely used psychoactive substance (not counting tobacco). It is aggressively marketed in our culture, with advertisements on television, radio, magazines and even billboards, as well as glamorization of alcohol – and acute intoxication in particular – saturating film, television and internet culture (social media, online forums).
Alcoholic beverages also come in a variety of colors, flavors and concentrations to appeal to people of all ages and tastes. While teenagers and young adults succumb to temptation mainly due to peer pressure, many middle-aged and older adults turn to alcohol as a way to cope with stress.
How Much is too Much Alcohol?
According to experts, having more than one drink a day for women or two for men is excessive and can damage the brain. One drink is defined as:
· One measure of liquor (1.5 ounces)
· One normal beer (12 ounces, not high-alcohol malt liquor or craft beer)
· One glass of wine (5 ounces)
There is also a popular collective misconception regarding what alcoholism looks like. Unfortunately, what most people think alcoholism looks like actually represents the later stages of the disease. What Enterhealth wants people to recognize are the early symptoms of a drinking problem, so that they or a loved one may get the help they need before it is too late.
To that end, the following questions are derived from a standard alcohol assessment called the CAGE Questionnaire, which Enterhealth commonly uses to determine if an individual is suffering from an alcohol problem:
· Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
· Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
· Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
· Have you ever had a drink in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover (eye-opener)?
If you answer yes to two or more of the above questions, you have an 85 percent chance of having alcoholism.
During Alcohol Awareness Month, Remember Alcohol Addiction is Treatable
At Enterhealth Ranch and the Enterhealth Outpatient Center of Excellence, dedicated teams of medical experts work with each patient on an individual basis to thorough assess a specific situation and then develop a treatment plan unique to each person. Utilizing the latest medical research from the National Institutes of Health identifying alcohol and drug dependency as a treatable chronic brain disease, Enterhealth’s science-based approach has been shown to have a high rate of success treating drug and alcohol addiction.
Treatment for alcohol addiction usually involves using the medication Vivitrol®, or long-acting naltrexone, which is given once a month. Naltrexone works via two main mechanisms: it decreases cravings for alcohol by up to 90 percent, and if a person does drink, the naltrexone blocks the receptors in the brain that give them the feeling of euphoria they crave. This has a tertiary effect of stopping them from “priming the pump.” That is, many times recovering alcoholics will try to have one drink, but when the euphoria kicks in, they drink to excess. By cutting out the “high” by being on Vivitrol, it is much more likely that the person will recognize that he or she has begun to relapse and seek help, allowing alcoholics to stay sober so they can continue their treatment.
Addiction is a chronic medical disease of the brain, and while it can be controlled, it’s important to recognize that it cannot be cured, at least at this point. If you or your loved one is concerned that you might have a drinking problem, the first step to answering that question is to seek an expert’s advice in the field of addiction – and there’s never a better time than during Alcohol Awareness Month. It takes tremendous strength and courage to face alcohol abuse and addiction head on, so reaching out for support is a critical step in the process of getting your life back.
By Dr. Harold C. Urschel III, MD, MMA, Chief Medical Strategist