Facts about Alcohol
Alcohol is the most widely used drug in the United States, with an estimated 104 million current users in 2000.
What Is Alcohol?
Alcohol is a liquid obtained by fermenting carbohydrates using yeast or the distillation process. Beer, wine, and distilled spirits are the major types of alcoholic beverages. Despite being legal, alcohol is classified as a drug along with illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine, or improperly used prescription drugs.
How Do I Know If I Have a Problem with Alcohol?
Start with a simple four-question test called CAGE. Among clinicians, CAGE is the most widely used test to determine if a problem exists with alcohol use. Here are the questions:
- Have you ever felt you should Cut down on your drinking?
- Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt Guilty about your drinking?
- Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning as an Eye opener to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?
If you answered yes to at least two questions, you are at risk of having a problem with alcohol dependence. Other diagnostic tools are available to help you further assess your use of alcohol or drugs. Your physician can help you determine if a problem exists.
Okay, I’ve Got a Problem. Now What?
Recognizing an unmanageable situation with alcohol is a huge first step, and, in fact, is Step One according to Alcoholics Anonymous.
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What Is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism is a brain-based disease characterized by abnormal alcohol- seeking behavior that leads to impaired control over drinking. “Curing” alcoholism is not a matter of willpower or moral strength any more than is curing diabetes or cancer.
Why Does Alcohol Affect Different People in Different Ways?
People who have a family history of alcoholism are genetically predisposed to the disease. A person’s environment also plays a role in alcoholism. Alcohol has different effects from person to person because of body size, hormones, and metabolism. This is particularly true with women, who become inebriated faster, progress to addiction more quickly, and develop diseases related to substance abuse sooner.
How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?
Some guidelines established by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) for adults up to age sixty-five:
Moderate drinking: for men, two drinks a day and, for women, one drink a day cause few if any problems.
Heavy, risky drinking: for men, more than five drinks a day or thirty-five drinks per week. For women, more than three drinks a day or twenty-one drinks per week.
A drink is considered 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.
Among men and women older than sixty-five, more than seven drinks per week or more than three drinks per occasion is considered too much.
NIAAA researchers found that the younger someone starts drinking, the more likely that person is to develop alcohol dependence. Among respondents who began drinking before age fifteen, more than 40 percent were classified as alcohol dependent at some point in their lifetimes.
How Does Alcohol Affect Having a Psychiatric Disorder?
Abuse of alcohol, which is a central nervous system depressant, can mask or mimic symptoms of depression or an anxiety disorder. What’s more, people with a mental illness require less alcohol use to experience alcohol-related problems, compared to people who don’t have a mental illness.
Among dually disordered clients, alcohol use disorders are strongly associated with a number of negative outcomes: destabilization of mental illness, drug abuse, homelessness, violence, victimization, incarceration, suicidal behaviors, and hospitalization.
How Does Alcohol Use Affect Neurobiology?
The human brain is made of billions of nerve cells, or neurons. Every time you feel something, including the effects of a drug, neurons are “firing” messages to and from one another. This “conversation” is known as neurotransmission. In a chemically dependent person, the conversation has gone awry. The role of brain chemistry in chemical dependence is a relatively new finding in the treatment field, but a rapidly growing body of evidence supports it.
While specific drugs affect the actions of specific neurotransmitters, alcohol affects the actions of multiple neurotransmitters and is the only drug to do so. Take a look at the following chart.
|THESE DRUGS||AFFECT THE ACTIONS OF|
|Amphetamines, cocaine||Dopamine (DA)|
|Benzodiazepines||Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA)|
|Alcohol||Glutamate (GLU) andalloftheabove|
Is Alcoholism Treatable?
Yes. Alcoholism won’t go away like a cold or the flu. However, with treatment it can be managed like other chronic diseases, such as diabetes. Treatment can involve detoxification, medications, and outpatient, hospital, or residential therapy.
Where Can I Learn More?
- about.com An easily searchable consumer Web site with extensive content.
- familydoctor.org A consumer Web site of general health information, including addiction and mental illness.
- hazelden.org Since 1949, Hazelden has provided interdisciplinary treatment for addiction to alcohol and other drugs.
- healthyplace.com This easy-to-search consumer Web site contains extensive information about severe mental illness and specific drug use.
- niaaa.nih.gov The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a branch of the National Institutes of Health. This site offers useful monthly features such as holiday drinking and assessing risk levels of drinking.
- samhsa.gov and csat.samhsa.gov These U.S. government Web sites are dedicated to mental health and substance abuse treatment, respectively.