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The Pervasive Effects of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

separator You hear the term a lot, but what exactly does “alcoholism” mean? According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcoholism has four main symptoms: 

  • Craving an alcoholic drink.
  • Being unable to limit drinking.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms (nausea, sweating, shakiness, anxiety) if you stop drinking alcohol.
  • Needing to drink more and more alcohol in order to get “high.”

Alcohol abuse is not the same thing as alcoholism. People who are considered abusers of alcohol experience the following types of behavior patterns: 

  • Failure to fulfill responsibilities at work, home and school
  • Drinking while driving or operating machinery.
  • Experiencing legal problems related to drinking.
  • Continuing with the drinking even after it has caused serious problems in your life.

Not all alcohol abusers are alcoholics by definition, but many alcoholics experience the common consequences of alcohol abuse. 

Recent research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that excessive use of alcohol caused 75,000 preventable deaths in 2001. Another way to look at that statistic is that in 2001, alcohol took 2.3 million years of potential life. That’s an average of 30 years for each individual who died in an alcohol-related, preventable death. 

About half of the deaths were due to injuries (car crashes were the leading cause of injury), alcohol poisoning, suicide and homicide. The other half were caused by chronic conditions that were related to alcohol abuse, such as liver disease, heart disease, several kinds of cancer (breast, liver, esophageal, laryngeal among others) and stroke. 

The abuse of alcohol has a profound impact on our society at large. As individuals, we need to take responsibilities for our own health and for the well-being of others. If you suspect that your alcohol drinking is slipping out of your control, getting help is the most honorable thing you can do—for yourself and for your loved ones. 

If you think that someone you love is having a problem with alcohol, there are things you can do—not only to encourage your loved one to get treatment, but also to help yourself deal with a process that isn’t always easy. Be sure to read, “Do You Wonder Whether Your Spouse has a Drinking Problem?, part of this month’s series on alcoholism.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
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