“Hold my beer and watch this!”

April 25, 2017

This catch phrase usually precedes an act of poor judgment.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month.  Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States.  One in twelve individuals or 17.6 million people suffers from alcohol abuse or dependence in the United States.  Alcohol is responsible for contributing to 1/3 of homicides and approximately 1/2 of car accidents in the United States.  Forty-eight percent of high school seniors say they have consumed alcohol in the past 30 days.  The average median age of their first drink was 15.7 years.  Most of these high school children have obtained alcohol from their parents or other adults known to them.  While in college, 1700 students between the ages of 18-24 are killed each year as a result of alcohol related issues.  It is also problematic since alcohol is considered the #1 date rape drug across US college campuses.

The alcohol industry spent more than $1 billion on TV, radio, print, and billboard advertising in 1997.  This number is thought to be considerably higher nowadays.  These ads contribute to the problem of underage drinking as many of these advertisements target the 18-24 ages demographic.  Their advertising budgets seem to be effective since according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, drinking on college campuses is common and more than half of college aged young adults binge drink.  Binge drinking is defined as more than 4 drinks in 2 hours for a female and more than 5 drinks in 2 hours for a male.  One out of every four college students suffer a negative academic consequence related to alcohol use sometime during their course of studies.  This is because of missed classes, poor test performance, or failed classes.

Propensity for alcohol use may be related to genetic factors, environmental influences from peer groups, or personality traits such as impulsivity.  Alcohol overuse can lead to alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and/or cirrhosis.  There were 31,000 deaths in the United States from cirrhosis in 2009.  Statistics show that there were 493,000 deaths from cirrhosis worldwide in 2010.  Aside from the illnesses above, alcohol overuse increases the risk of injury, depression, hypertension, cardiac arrhythmias, electrolyte imbalances, sleep related issues, bone marrow suppression, and increased risk of social or legal problems.

Common signs of alcoholism include:

  • Drinking to de-stress
  • Repeatedly neglecting responsibilities
  • Using alcohol in dangerous situations such as after taking medication or driving
  • Legal problems due to alcohol, i.e. DUIs or public intoxication
  • Continuing to drink despite threatened relationships

Help is available for alcohol abuse.  Abstinence from alcohol is a common theme among the various treatment options.  Treatment includes Alcoholics Anonymous, prescription medications to help manage withdrawal or reinforce alcohol abstinence, counseling, and inpatient/outpatient rehabilitation programs.  The person abusing alcohol needs to understand that they have a problem and seek help.  A strong support network is crucial in achieving alcohol abstinence.  Early intervention is essential to preventing devastating medical problems that may occur from long-standing alcohol overuse.

Screening questionnaires for alcohol problems (AUDIT, CAGE, T-ACE) are commonly available online.  These can be reviewed by patients and/or their families in order to prompt treatment discussions.

Alcoholism is a disease and Recovery is an option. Please feel free to discuss with your physician any concerns regarding alcohol use or overuse.  Together we can develop a treatment plan to improve your likelihood of successful alcohol abstinence.