Ten percent of Americans are untreated alcoholics. At least another 10 percent are well on their way to becoming alcoholics, based on liquor sales data reported in The Washington Post. Only 30 percent of American adults do not drink at all. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows different data, but these statistics are based on self-report surveys. Sales data cannot lie. During Alcohol Awareness Month, the dollar amount spent on alcohol is enough to prompt rethinking drinking and a number of questions:
- What does moderate drinking really mean?
- How is tolerance related to alcohol consumption?
- How do people know if they have a drinking problem?
Moderate drinking defined
One drink is defined as 12 ounces of regular beer (which usually contains about 5 percent alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (12 percent alcohol), 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (40 percent alcohol) or about ½ cup of powdered alcohol.
Certain bioactive compounds, called polyphenols, are found in alcoholic beverages, particularly red wine. Polyphenols are reported to have health benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association cites a study that showed that adults who drank one to two drinks per day three to four times per week reduced their heart attack risk by 32 percent.
Further review of the scientific literature shows evidence that men should have no more than two drinks per day and women only one to attain health benefits without adverse effects. These findings are consistent with the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Guidelines also define heavy drinking as the consumption of more than three drinks per day or more than seven drinks per week for women and more than four drinks per day or more than 14 drinks per week for men.
According to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2010 through 2012 an average of six deaths occurred from alcohol poisoning each day among persons over 15 years of age in the United States. Three in 4 of these deaths involved adults aged 35 to 64 years, and 3 in 4 of these deaths involved males. Nearly 70 percent of the deaths were among non-Hispanic whites with the highest alcohol poisoning death rate among American Indians/Alaska Natives (49.1 deaths per 1 million).
Heavy drinking can also lead to anemia, cancer, heart disease, vascular disease, liver cirrhosis, dementia, seizures, gout, stroke, brain damage, pancreatitis, ulcers and more. Alcohol is a depressant, so heavy drinking also causes depression. Alcohol abuse also can lead to anxiety, violence and suicide. Non-fatal injuries are common as well and many people in the community, family and social circles are adversely affected by a single person’s alcohol abuse.
The role of tolerance
About 50 percent of Americans classify as normal drinkers, based on the sales data of alcoholic beverages. But how many of them progress to alcoholism and over what period of time? That appears to be a rather gray area, because many factors play a role in individual drinking patterns. The phenomenon of tolerance best accounts for these differences.
Tolerance refers to the body’s responses to ethanol, including metabolism, rate of intoxication and recovery, and degree of resistance to the development of alcoholism. Genetic and environmental factors determine one’s tolerance and, ultimately, who will become an alcoholic.
Alcohol use disorders
Alcohol use disorders (AUD) are generally diagnosed when one’s drinking pattern causes distress or harm. AUD can be a behavior pattern (alcohol abuse) or a physical condition (alcohol dependence). The number and severity of symptoms listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-5 are used to further qualify AUD as mild, moderate and severe. Many different self-tests are designed to help people discover whether their drinking has become a problem. One commonly used test is called the CAGE questionnaire. The CAGE consists of the following four questions:
- Have you ever felt you needed to Cut down on your drinking?
- Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt Guilty about drinking?
- Have you ever felt you needed a drink first thing in the morning (Eye-opener) to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?
Score one point for each “yes” answer. A score of two or more suggests an AUD. People with an AUD need to seek help to stop drinking because quitting becomes harder and harder with time. Many avenues exist to assist in treating alcoholism, but the first step is admitting there is a problem.
Self-help groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, are available worldwide. Many people require residential treatment for detoxification, education and counseling before settling into the AA program. The good news is that anyone can recover and stay sober. Many go on to live long, happy and healthy lives. Sometimes just a little help is all it takes!
Sovereign Health of California offers dual diagnosis and treatment for those battling addiction and mental health disorders. To learn about our alcohol rehab treatment programs, call (866) 819-0427.
Written by Dana Connolly, Sovereign Health Group writer