Health Problems: Is Alcohol at the Heart of the Matter?

Alcohol health problems, gateway treatment centersAccording to the U.S. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 28 percent of American adults drink at levels that put them at risk for alcohol dependence and alcohol-related health problems. Yet the risks associated with heavy drinking, such as high blood pressure and congestive heart failure, are seemingly overlooked.

The scary thing is people may never feel the symptoms of menacing health issues related to alcohol use. That’s why an annual physical should never be considered complete without  a screening for substance abuse issues. And, when required, doctors need to initiate brief interventions to motivate positive change. Screening and brief intervention may be provided in an office, emergency department or inpatient visit for both new and established patients, and is a reimbursable service.

Medical professionals are in a unique position to play a key role in increasing awareness of risks associated with alcohol abuse, including:

  • Long-term alcohol consumption can lead to changes in the way the brain looks and cognitive functioning.
  • Alcohol abuse is a frequent contributor to elevated blood pressure.
    • Heavy consumption may weaken the immune system. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead not only to liver damage, but also to increased illness and death from infectious diseases, including pneumonia, tuberculosis, HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and septicemia.
    • Alcohol consumption is associated with a range of mental health problems, including:
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Personality disorders
  • Risk-taking behaviors
  • Schizophrenia
  • Suicidal thoughts and actions

Learn More About the Effects of Alcohol Abuse>

Moderate Drinking Defined

To remain within the low-risk range, medical professionals should advise adherence to accepted moderate drinking guidelines.

For women, moderate drinking is defined by USDA as up to 1 drink per day; low-risk limits set by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recommend no more than 3 drinks per day and no moderate drinking, gateway alcohol and drug treatment centersmore than 7 drinks per week.

For men, moderate drinking is defined by USDA as up to 2 drinks per day; low-risk limits set by NIAAA recommend no more than 4 drinks per day and no more than 14 drinks per week.

For adult and adolescents who need help with alcohol and/or drug abuse issues, Gateway offers convenience as an in-network treatment provider with centers throughout Illinois and the St. Louis Metro East area. With substance abuse treatment programs offered before and after traditional work hours, getting help doesn’t require falling behind at work or school. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, please call Gateway at 877-505-HOPE (4673).

 

 

A Doctor’s Note: How Self-Medicating Spirals into Addiction

By Dr. John Larson
Corporate Medical Director, Gateway Treatment Centers

 

John Larson Gateway Treatment Centers

Dr. John Larson
Corporate Medical Director
Gateway Treatment Centers

For many, addiction unwittingly begins with self-medicating, which is when a person uses substances, like alcohol, marijuana, cocaine or prescription medication, in an attempt to appease symptoms related to physical pain, social anxiety or depression.

For example, take social anxiety—in modest doses alcohol may initially produce a sense of relief because of the effect it has on brain chemistry. However, since alcohol metabolizes in the body very quickly, it soon loses its effect.  Plus, as tolerance develops, drugs or alcohol will become less and less effective. Indeed, with regular, continued use of alcohol or other drugs of choice, the chemistry of the brain will gradually change, worsening feelings of anxiety when alcohol and/or drugs aren’t present—even if an individual is not in a stressful social situation.

Once the occasional drink escalates in frequency and volume to appease the aggravated anxiety symptoms, physical dependence can develop.  Attempts to stop or cut back only result in symptoms of withdrawal, which results in an increased preoccupation with obtaining and using alcohol (or one’s drug of choice).

Actually, when an individual tries to cut back, the rebound of the original symptoms only intensifies the discomfort experienced during withdrawal, making it very difficult to stop using.  This often occurs with drugs, such as Valium and Xanax, sleeping medications and drugs used to treat acute and chronic pain.

depression, social anxiety, addictionUnfortunately, many are under the mistaken impression that addiction issues will disappear if the underlying problem is treated:  “If I can find some other way of treating my social anxiety, my alcohol problem will simply go away.” This is seldom the case.  When it reaches this point, the drug or alcohol use has a life of its own and the individual needs to be specifically evaluated and treated for addiction as well as for the underlying psychiatric or medical problem. Failure to treat both inevitably results in continued suffering and worsening health complications.

Wondering if you may have a problem with alcohol addiction? Take this Alcohol-Dependency Self-Test.

For more information about substance abuse treatment, call 877-505-HOPE (4673) or visit RecoverGateway.org.

MODERATE DRINKING: HOW MUCH ALCOHOL IS IN YOUR DRINK?

moderate drinking, drinking guidelines, gateway treatment centersEven conscientious drinkers who limit themselves to one or two alcoholic beverages could easily find themselves beyond the legal limit for driving in addition to unknowingly putting their health at risk warns The National Alcohol Beverage Control Association.

Drinks served in bars and restaurants often contain more alcohol than people realize. When you consider the alcohol volume, the size of the pour and the size of glass your drink arrives in, there can be a lot of variance,” explains Gateway Foundation Clinical Director Dr . Phil Welches.

The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines define moderate drinking as one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men.

So what can you do if you’re trying to moderate the amount of alcohol you drink? In some situations, careful label reading and measuring will help ensure you don’t overdo it.

  • At home, measure the pour a couple of times in the same size glass so you know what a standard drink looks like.
  • At bars and restaurants, assume that poured drinks are more like one-and-a- half standard drinks and maybe even more for mixed cocktails, such as martinis and Long Island iced teas.
  • If the alcohol volume is higher than a standard “drink,” drink less.

Then it’s simply a matter of sticking to the limit you set for yourself. Once you reach your max, drink water to make sure you stay in control and help protect yourself from dehydration and a hangover.

To understand the warning signs of alcohol abuse, what it means to be a functioning alcoholic, how to help someone who may be struggling with alcohol dependence and more, visit RecoverGateway.org/alcohol-abuse

How Does Alcohol Abuse Effect Your Body?

Alcohol Doesn’t Mix Well With Your Body

alcohol-abuse-effectsDo you know alcohol can be toxic to your heart? Over the longer term, heavy drinking can lead to high blood pressure, enlarged and weakened heart, congestive heart failure and stroke. Binge drinking can be associated with a trial fibrillation, a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. If the heart’s components don’t work together properly it can even lead to a stroke, advises the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The scary thing is that you may not even feel the symptoms.

All of these are reasons why your doctor encourages you not to drink alcohol. You can take care of your heart through good nutrition, regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight. Other health issues associated with alcohol abuse include:

  • Alcohol abuse increases the risks of cancer. For women, even moderate drinking can increase chances of developing breast cancer by 10%.
  • Although alcohol can make you feel energetic or uninhibited, it is actually a depressant. Alcohol shuts down parts of your brain. When the amount of alcohol in your blood exceeds a certain level, your respiratory system slows down markedly, and can cause a coma or death because oxygen no longer reaches the brain. This is referred to as alcohol poisoning.
  • Daily alcohol intake may impact the ability of adults to produce and retain new cells, reducing new brain cell production by nearly 40%.
  • Alcohol abuse is related to cirrhosis, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FAS), malnutrition, ulcers, hepatitis, among other things
  • Poorer outcomes from surgical procedures due to alcohol’s effects on the person’s health, malnutrition, and the depressive effects of alcohol on the body
  • Heavy drinking affects the body’s ability to stop bleeding because the liver has difficulty producing the proteins that cause clotting
  • Alcohol abuse can result in brain damage, slower thinking, unsteadiness and slurred speech
  • Alcohol doesn’t mix well with many prescription drugs

Your Brain

Drinking alcohol leads to a loss of coordination, poor judgment, slowed reflexes, distorted vision, memory lapses and even blackouts.

Your Body

Alcohol can damage every organ in your body. It is absorbed directly into your bloodstream and can increase your risk for a variety of life-threatening diseases, including cancer.

Self-Control

Alcohol depresses your central nervous system, lowers your inhibitions and impairs your judgment. Drinking can lead to risky behaviors, such as driving when you shouldn’t, or having unprotected sex.

It Can Kill You

Drinking large amounts of alcohol at one time or very rapidly can cause alcohol poisoning, which can lead to coma or even death. Driving and drinking also can be deadly. In 2003, 31% of drivers age 15 to 20 who died in traffic accidents had been drinking alcohol.

Know the Law

It is illegal to buy or possess alcohol if you are under age 21.

Can the body recover from excessive drinking?

Research even suggests that brains too can recover from damage caused by alcohol abuse.

Studies have found that after a month of sobriety, an alcoholic’s brain begins to repair itself, and brain volume, which tends to shrink from excess alcohol, is increased by a few percentage points. Patients’ ability to concentrate is also improved.

Is Drinking In Your DNA?

Drinking habits are often ingrained well before one reaches the legal drinking age. Heredity, culture, economic standing, family and lifestyle all play a role in shaping how much an individual drinks. If alcohol dependence runs in your family, it is particularly important to be vigilant about sticking to moderate drinking guidelines because you are more susceptible to developing alcohol dependency than someone without a family history of alcohol abuse.

Research suggests the body can bounce back once a person stops drinking. The liver, one of the few organs that can compensate by growing new cells, has remarkable regenerative powers. A liver mildly inflamed by alcohol can recover fairly rapidly once the drinking stops. Even a scarred liver can halt the process of cirrhosis if alcohol abuse is stopped in time.

Print the “Get the Facts on Alcohol” PDF (Requires Adobe Reader)

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol dependency, please call Gateway Foundation‘s 24-Hour Helpline to arrange a free and confidential consultation at 877-505-HOPE (4673).

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