Despite alcohol’s legal nature, the consequences of alcohol abuse are significant. In fact, it is perhaps the fact that is legal and readily available that many people underestimate its ability to do harm.
Alcoholism risks one’s own health and relationships with others. Today, we will explore the nature of alcohol abuse and hope to help illustrate it is a substance that can do real harm.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about alcohol abuse consequences.
Legal Doesn’t Mean Safe
When discussing alcohol abuse consequences, it is important to put them into context. Alcohol is one of a relatively small selection of recreational drugs that are legal but clearly harmful to abuse.
In fact, some research makes the claim alcohol is more harmful than heroin. This is not simply an opinion either; the data surrounding the rate it is abused, its effects on the body, and how addictive it is lends support to that claim.
Like many recreational drugs, the dangers of alcohol are mostly present if the drug is abused or otherwise used irresponsibly. If used in moderation and with considerations made for the impairment it causes, the dangers of alcohol use drop significantly.
What Constitutes Alcohol Abuse?
When discussing alcohol consequences, it is helpful to first frame what qualifies as abuse. Broadly speaking, there are two terms to understand when discussing significant alcohol use
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as engaging in a level of drinking that leads to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of greater than .08%.
This level of drinking corresponds to the average male drinking about 5 or more drinks within a period of 2 hours. For women, this would represent 4 drinks in that same timeframe.
Precise definitions of binge drinking vary somewhat but most experts will define binge drinking in more or less the same way. Notably, a BAC of .08 is the legal driving limit in most American states. In some states, such as Utah, it is even lower.
Significant binge drinking can represent an immediate health hazard. At a BAC of 0.16%, the body starts to become seriously impaired by the drug, and the user may get nauseous.
About 0.2% BAC, the user begins to approach true alcohol poisoning, growing more disoriented and possibly blacking out. At 0.25% or higher, the user will likely need medical attention and should have their breathing monitored for irregularities.
Heavy Alcohol Use
The heavy use of alcohol is defined by the NIAAA as 4 drinks for men on any one day or more than 14 drinks per weak. For women, it is 3 drinks on any one day or a much lower 7 drinks per week.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) differs more significantly on this point than it does regarding binge drinking. They define it as binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month.
While not all heavy alcohol users do not necessarily suffer from alcohol addiction, many do. Regardless, consistent heavy alcohol use will affect you, even if you do not suffer from an addiction.
The heavy use of alcohol can have long-term consequences both for one’s health and one’s relationships. These consequences are explored more in the section below.
Long-Term Consequences of Alcohol Abuse
Long-term heavy drinking can negatively impact almost every part of the body alcohol passes through. This includes the:
The more one abuses alcohol, the more these systems experience wear. This can result in increased cancer risk, chronic stomach problems, and more.
Perhaps most well-known is the damage alcohol does to the liver, which cannot metabolize large amounts of alcohol quickly enough. With enough abuse, alcohol can even lead to kidney failure.
In addition, the longer one abuses alcohol, the greater the chance one might become addicted to it. Even if you do not grow psychologically addicted, your body will grow physically dependent on the drug over time, making you go through withdrawal if you suddenly try to stop drinking.
While some of the problems caused by alcohol abuse can be lifelong, stopping your heavy use will still be beneficial. More or less, all of these problems can get worse over time if the abuse continues.
Alcohol is an addictive substance. The body can grow physically dependent on it, going into withdrawal if you try to cease drinking. You can also grow psychologically dependent, feeling drawn to use alcohol due to the way it makes you feel and how it can manipulate mechanisms in the brain.
People who have difficulty stopping the use of alcohol generally fall under the diagnosis of alcohol use disorder (AUD), also called alcoholism. AUD is characterized by three symptoms:
- A craving to drink alcohol
- An inability to stop drinking once you’ve started
- A negative emotional state when not drinking or drunk
An estimated 18 million Americans suffer from AUD. The severity of AUD varies, with alcoholism generally only referring to more severe cases.
Beating an alcohol addiction usually requires intervention from experts, such as through the care we offer with our alcohol detox program. This is in large part due to the nature of alcohol withdrawal.
While withdrawal is not the final step in beating addiction, it is often regarded as one of the hardest. The cessation of alcohol after a period of very heavy drinking can be hard on the body, which has grown dependent on the drug.
Many find this process almost impossible to deal with at home. However, rehab facilities like ours can use carefully controlled drug treatments to ease the process. You also will be surrounded by a safe support system that makes it more difficult to use alcohol in the immediate, unlike at home.
Recovery Is Possible
If you or someone you love is struggling with the consequences of alcohol abuse, we can help. At our facility, we offer a detox program tailored to their needs.
It is designed not only to help one through withdrawal but also to equip them with the tools to resist using alcohol once they leave. If you’re interested and would like to know more, contact us.
Recovering from any addiction is not easy. However, with work and the right program, it is always possible.