The dangers of tobacco products and tobacco use have been well documented and accepted. Restrictions on smoking are now common in public places and are generally accepted. However, although the dangers of excessive alcohol abuse have been just as thoroughly documented, the public in general continues to over-indulge in alcohol consumption, and the alcohol-related statistics for deaths and injuries continue to climb. Alcohol is associated with good times and celebrations, but excessive drinking continues to exact a heavy toll in human lives.
THE STATISTICAL FACTS OF ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION
Organizations such as the National Institute of Health have compiled statistics and conducted studies that show the realities of alcohol consumption and alcohol abuse, and the consequences of both. Many of these facts are also found in “fact sheets” issued by the Center for Disease Control under the title “Alcohol Use and Health.” A sample is listed below:
- Each year, approx. 5,000 people under the age of 21 die from alcohol-related events such as car crashes, homicides, alcohol poisoning, etc.
- Alcohol impairs judgment and can result in risky behaviors, unintended sexual activity, and violence.
- Since men are more likely to abuse alcohol than women, they are 2-times more likely to be involved in a fatal alcohol-related car accident.
- Seventy percent of 18 year olds admit to drinking an alcohol beverage at least once. Eighty percent of college students reported that they consumed alcohol.
- Binge drinking for men is defined at 5 or more drinks within 2 hours. For women, it is defined as 4 or more drinks within 2 hours.
- Binge drinking is done mostly by young people 18 – 34 years old, thus increasing the probabilities of sexually transmitted diseases, violence, car accidents, and unplanned pregnancies.
- Two-thirds of the high school students who consume alcohol do so until they are intoxicated.
- Approximately 17% of men and 8% of women in this country will become alcohol-dependent during their lifetime.
- A total of 80,000 deaths per year in the United States are related to alcohol abuse, making it the 3rd leading cause of death in the country.
- Alcohol abuse can result in cardiovascular disease, cancer of the throat, liver, or mouth, anxiety or depression, dementia, liver disease, and much more.
- Alcohol poisoning, which is a short-term result of excess drinking, can result in unconsciousness, coma, or death.
As grim as the above facts and statistics are, many of them have become almost too commonplace in public awareness. However, the following facts are generally unknown and may be surprising.
GENERALLY UNKNOWN FACTS OF ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION
- YOU MAY BE DRINKING MORE THAN YOU REALIZE. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the serving sizes for alcoholic beverages in restaurants are generally larger than the “standard size” typically designated for various drinks. For example, the alcohol content in a single mixed cocktail can be the equivalent of 3 standard drinks.
- ALCOHOL CAN ACTUALLY CHANGE THE BRAIN’S PHYSICAL STRUCTURE. According to Dr. Brad Lander, Clinical Director of Addiction Medicine at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, OH, the brain actually adapts to living with alcohol. Prolonged excessive consumption causes physical changes in the brain that allow it to perform under the influence of alcohol. However, when a person stops drinking, the changes in the brain remain. These changes can cause problems throughout the person’s life.
- THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ALCOHOL ABUSE AND ALCOHOLISM. According to Dr. Lander, alcohol abuse involves excess drinking that causes problems in the person’s life, such as job loss or the neglect of family members. Alcoholism is the result of changes in the brain that cause the person to have uncontrollable cravings for alcohol, despite the extreme negative effects on the person’s health. Many experts consider alcoholism to be a life-long disease.
- ALCOHOL WITHDRAWAL CAN BE DANGEROUS. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be extremely dangerous. An attempt to stop using alcohol, particularly after a long period of alcohol abuse, should be done under medical supervision.
If you drink, the above facts should give you a reason to think about your own alcohol consumption, or that of a family member or friend. Can you function without first taking a drink? Can you enjoy regular activities without a drink? Are you constantly thinking about the next drink? Have you begun attempting to hide your drinking from family and friends? Do you have the urge to drink after successes (as a reward) and after failures (as a consolation)? Finally, do you experience withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop drinking? A positive answer to any of these questions indicates a serious problem with alcohol as well as the need to get certified medical help. Excess drinking may be associated with “good times,” but it is also closely connected with shattered and wasted lives.