Alcohol Abuse Information Guide
Alcohol use disorder and binge drinking are problems for many Americans. Some 50% of the American population drinks alcohol at least once a month.1 (p12) Almost a quarter of people who binge drink are also heavy drinkers..1 (p12) According to a survey taken in 2019, 65.8 million Americans aged 12 or older reported binge drinking within the last month.1 (p12)Moreover, nearly 15 million Americans aged 12 or older had an alcohol use disorder within the last year.1 (p35)
The rates of binge drinking and alcohol addiction in Nevada are lower than the national average, but they are still problematic.2 (p29), 3 (p12) Almost a quarter of the Nevadan population drinks alcohol at least once a month and 17% of adults in Nevada binge drink or drink heavily.3 (p12)2 (p29) People between the ages of 18 and 25 are most likely to binge drink.2 (p29) Just over 6% of people in Nevada had an alcohol use disorder in the last year, and the age group most frequently diagnosed is 18- to 25-year-olds.2 (p45)
This article provides information about:
- How alcohol affects the body and mind.
- Why is drinking addictive?
- Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
- What is considered alcohol abuse, and how it differs from alcohol addiction.
- Options for fighting alcoholism.
- How to access treatment in Nevada or elsewhere in the country.
Abusing Alcohol vs. Alcoholism
There are a lot of terms surrounding alcohol use, and you may have heard them used interchangeably. It may be confusing, and you may have some questions that this section will answer, including:
- What are alcohol abuse and dependence?
- How is alcohol abused?
- Do I abuse alcohol?
- What is alcohol addiction?
Alcohol abuse is the consumption of alcohol with the intention of getting drunk, and can refer to binge drinking, drinking heavily, underage drinking, or drinking while pregnant.5 (what is excessive drinking), 9 (what is alcohol abuse) Binge drinking is defined as having at least 5 standard drinks in a short period of time for males or at least 4 standard drinks in a short period of time for females, at least once within the last month.1 (p12), 5 (what is excessive drinking), 9 (what is alcohol abuse) If a man consumes 15 or more drinks within a 1-week period, or a woman consumes more than 8 drinks within a 1-week period, it is considered to be heavy drinking.5 (what is excessive drinking) A standard drink is defined as 1.5 ounces of liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer.5 (what is a standard drink), 9 (what is alcohol abuse) However, just because a person abuses alcohol doesn’t mean they are addicted to alcohol.5 (what is excessive drinking), 9 (what is alcohol abuse)
Alcoholism is also known as an alcohol use disorder, and it involves a cluster of physical, behavioral, and mental symptoms.4 (p483) While alcohol abuse is a behavioral pattern, an alcohol use disorder is an incurable disease that involves changes in the brain, affects the ability to control impulses around alcohol, and creates difficulty in functioning.4 (p483, 490) Physical and behavioral warning signs associated with an alcohol use disorder include:4 (p490-491), 6 (when does drinking become a pattern), 9 (what is alcoholism), 10 (p20)
- Alcohol use interfering with regular responsibilities at school, work, or home.
- Being unable to stop drinking even after it has caused or worsened issues with relationships, physical health, or mental health.
- Developing a tolerance to the effects of alcohol, where the usual amount of alcohol no longer achieves the same result.
- Drinking more than planned, or for longer than planned.
- Engaging in risk-taking behaviors while drinking, such as driving.
- Experiencing cravings to drink alcohol.
- Getting into legal trouble because of alcohol.
- Quitting or cutting back on activities that were enjoyable, such as hobbies, because of alcohol use.
- Spending a lot of time being drunk or hungover.
- Wanting or trying to cut back or quit drinking, but being unable to.
- Withdrawal symptoms appear when alcohol use is stopped.
The Effects of Alcohol
Alcohol has a variety of effects on the body and mind.4 (p497-498) At first, drinking alcohol produces effects that are seen as positive, such as reducing inhibitions, making people feel more outgoing, improving mood, and relieving stress.4 (p498)This makes people more likely to abuse alcohol.
Alcohol use also has negative effects, especially when used in larger amounts.4 (p498) The negative short-term effects of alcohol include:4 (p497-498), 5 (short-term health risk), 6 (how do alcohol use disorders affect people)
- Acting inappropriately, including aggression or promiscuity.
- Further reduction in inhibitions and judgment.
- Greater risk of suicidal thoughts or attempts.
- Hangovers after the effects of alcohol wear off.
- Impaired ability to focus or think clearly.
- Increased likelihood of participating in risky behaviors such as drinking and driving or unprotected sex, which can lead to unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.
- Loss of coordination, which can lead to accidents, falls, or other injuries.
- Memory lapses or blackouts.
- Mood swings.
- Reduced reaction time, which can lead to car accidents.
- Trouble staying alert and awake.
If alcohol is ingested in excessive quantities, more serious effects can occur, including alcohol poisoning, vomiting, loss of consciousness, slowed breathing and heart rate, or death.4 (p497)
Long-Term Side Effects of Alcohol Abuse
Over time, an alcohol abuse disorder can have harmful effects on your physical and mental health, as well as other areas of your life.4 (p492-493), 5 (long-term health risks), 6 (how do alcohol use disorders affect people), 7, 8 (p54) The long-term effects of alcohol on the body can include:4 (p492-493), 5 (long-term health risks), 6 (how do alcohol use disorders affect people), 7, 8 (p54)
- Alcohol is a carcinogen and has been linked to increased risk of many types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, colon, esophagus, larynx, liver, mouth, pharynx, rectum, stomach, and throat.
- Damage to the gastrointestinal tract. Alcohol can cause bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract, inflammation in the stomach (gastritis), ulcers in the stomach, and a painful condition involving inflammation in the pancreas (pancreatitis).4 (p492)
- Decreasing how effective your immune system is, making you more susceptible to illness.
- Inflammation and scarring of the liver, which can interfere with how well the liver can function, and increase the risk of cancer.
- Issues with the nervous system, including harmful changes in the brain, memory issues, nerve damage affecting the limbs, numbness and tingling in the extremities, thought issues, and weakness in the muscles.
- Problems with the cardiovascular system, including abnormal heart rhythms, damage to the muscles of the heart, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and increased risk of stroke.
Chronic alcohol use can also affect your mental health.4 (p493), 5 (long-term health risks), These long-term effects include an increased risk of:4 (p493), 5 (long-term health risks), 6 (how do alcohol use disorders affect people), 7
- Alcohol use disorder.
- Bipolar disorder.
- Mood swings.
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
In addition, prolonged alcohol use can create social problems.5 (long-term health risks) The effects of alcohol on the body and mind can impair your ability to function at school or work, leading to poor attendance, work that doesn’t meet standards, and loss of employment.5 (long-term health risks) Interpersonal conflicts commonly occur, especially with friends or family who don’t approve of your drinking behaviors.5 (long-term health risks) If you become aggressive while intoxicated, this can cause major issues in relationships, or even legal problems. Drinking while driving can lead to arrests or loss of your license.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol is a physically addictive substance, especially when used in large amounts over an extended period of time.4 (p499) If you’ve been drinking regularly and stop drinking suddenly, you may experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can include:4 (p499), 8 (p52-54)
- Becoming more sensitive to light, sound, and touch.
- Experiencing delusions, especially feeling paranoid or persecuted.
- Fast heart rate.
- Feeling agitated, anxious, or irritable.
- Feeling nauseous or vomiting.
- Hand tremors.
- High blood pressure.
- Loss of appetite.
- Loss of touch with reality, or being confused about time, setting, and situation.
- Poor judgment.
- Problems falling or staying asleep.
- Seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t there.
- Trouble with concentration or memory.
Seizures and delirium tremens are dangerous symptoms of withdrawal that can become life-threatening.8 (p54-55, 63-64)Medical treatment is required for these symptoms to prevent them from worsening and becoming fatal.4 (p63)
Alcohol Rehab Options
Successful treatment for alcohol abuse should be tailored to your individual needs.10 (p4) There isn’t one specific type of treatment that works well for everyone, so it is important to be aware of the types of treatment settings that are available.6 (when should someone seek help), 10 (p4) The most popular treatment settings include:
- This is an important step for people who are physically dependent on alcohol, to ensure their safety as they go through withdrawal.6 (when should someone seek help), 10 (p25) This is most commonly accomplished in an inpatient setting, where you will stay for the duration of withdrawal so that medical staff can provide medication to ease withdrawal symptoms and monitor your condition to prevent any complications.6 (when should someone seek help), 10 (p25) Since detox simply addresses withdrawal symptoms, it isn’t considered treatment and should be followed by either inpatient or outpatient care to treat the factors that underlie and contribute to maintaining an addiction.6 (when should someone seek help), 10 (p25)
- Inpatient treatment. Since you stay in this type of facility for the duration of treatment, inpatient care may be suggested for people who have gone through treatment in the past and relapsed, have more severe alcohol use disorders, do not have outside support or stable living environments, or have co-occurring mental health disorders. These programs offer intense group and individual counseling and a structured environment, assistance in building a support group, encouragement to participate in self-help meetings, and linkage to continuing care.10 (p27-28)
- Outpatient treatment. This type of treatment is best for people who have strong support groups, stable living environments, mild alcohol use disorders, and job, school, or family responsibilities that they can’t take time away from.10 (p27) These programs range in intensity, often offering step-down options, but providing group and individual counseling sessions and encouraging participation in self-help meetings.10 (p27)
Group and individual counseling sessions use behavioral counseling techniques to teach participants how to cope with triggers, prevent relapse in high-risk situations, improve communication skills, and manage psychiatric or medical conditions if applicable.10 (p28) Once you start at a facility, a unique treatment plan will be developed that is tailored to meet your needs.10 (p4-5)
Finding Help for Alcohol Abuse
American Addiction Centers is one of the leading providers of alcohol detox and rehab services, with facilities in Nevada and across the country.11 (your recovery), 12 (highlights) Our facilities offer a full range of treatment, from medically supervised detox to inpatient and outpatient care.12 (program highlights), 13 (levels of care) If you think you may have an issue with alcohol abuse and want to learn more about getting help, reach out to our confidential helpline 24/7 at 702-800-2682.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). 2018-2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Model-based prevalence estimates (50 states and the District of Columbia).
- University of Nevada Las Vegas. (2018). 2019-2021 Comprehensive community substance abuse prevention plan.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Alcohol use and your health.
- American Psychological Association. (2018). Understanding alcohol use disorders and their treatment.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol’s effects on the body.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series 45, DHHS Publication No. (SMA) 06-4131. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (Third edition).
- American Addiction Centers. (2021). American Addiction Centers.
- American Addiction Centers. (2021). Desert Hope Las Vegas treatment center.
- American Addiction Centers. (2021). Substance abuse treatment services.
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