The Dangers of Alcoholism: How Alcohol Can Harm Your Health
While drinking alcohol is a common activity, the amount of alcohol a person drinks can wreak havoc on their health. In fact, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), an estimated 95,000 people die from alcohol-related causes each year. This makes alcohol the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Additionally, alcohol-involved driving fatalities accounted for 28% of driving deaths in 2019.
But drinking alcohol isn’t just dangerous to drivers. Many harmful health problems start when people consume too much alcohol.
Alcohol Effects on the Body
Drinking too much alcohol even on a single occasion has negative effects on your health. Alcohol affects many major organs, including the brain, heart, liver, immune system. It can even cause cancer.
- Brain: Alcohol acts as a depressant on the central nervous system. Even just a small amount of alcohol can interfere with the brain’s functionality. These effects include a change in mood or behavior, a loss of coordination and movement, and impacts to speech.
- Heart: Drinking alcohol is also linked to several heart problems, such as cardiomyopathy, arrythmias, stroke, and high blood pressure.
- Liver: Frequent and heavy drinking can greatly affect the liver and its functionality and increases the risk of liver disease. Other side effects of drinking include cirrhosis, steatosis (fatty liver disease), alcoholic hepatitis, and fibrosis.
- Immune System: Alcohol use can also weaken the immune system, increasing the risk of illness. In fact, drinking too much even on one occasion can slow the body’s ability to fight off infections for up to 24 hours.
- Cancer: There is strong evidence linking alcohol consumption to several types of cancers, including liver cancer, breast cancer, esophageal cancer, and colorectal cancer.
- Alcohol Poisoning: Binge drinking is defined as consuming 5 drinks or more for men, or 4 drinks or more for women, on a single occasion, according to the CDC. This type of excessive alcohol use can cause alcohol poisoning, which can lead to permanent brain damage and even death. Some symptoms of alcohol poisoning include difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, vomiting, seizure, and slowed heart rate.
Drinking too much alcohol even once affects many organs in the body. Prolonged alcohol use and binge drinking increases the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder and addiction.
Alcohol Use Disorders and Addiction
Alcoholism is a term generally used to describe a person with an alcohol dependence. An Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a medically diagnosed condition that can range from mild, moderate, or severe. In fact, in 2019, about 14.5 million people aged 12 and older were reported to live with an AUD according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Those suffering from an AUD are more likely to get help from a primary care physician. To diagnose an AUD, a person must meet two or more of the criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) within a 12-month period.
- Drinking more or for a longer period of time than intended.
- Feeling incapable of cutting back on the amount of alcohol consumed.
- Becoming sick for an extended period of time as a result of drinking too much.
- Inability to concentrate due to alcohol cravings.
- Inability to care for a family, hold down a job, or perform in school.
- Continuing to drink despite problems caused with friends or family.
- Decreased participation in activities which were once important.
- Finding oneself in dangerous or harmful situations as a direct result of drinking.
- Continuing to drink despite adding to another health problem, feeling depressed or anxious or blacking out.
- Drinking more as a result of a tolerance to alcohol.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
AUD and Treatment Options
Whether a person has mild, moderate, or severe AUD depends on how many of the conditions apply to them.
- Mild: Two to three
- Moderate: Four to five
- Severe: Six or more
There are many treatment options available for those suffering from AUD and alcoholism, including:
- Various types of counseling and therapy, including psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and motivational interviewing.
- In- and out-patient alcohol rehabilitation centers.
- 12-step programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous.
- Yoga and meditation.
- Art and music therapy.
Alcohol-Impaired and Drunk Driving
The dangers of alcohol are not only limited to health issues. Alcohol-impaired and drunk driving plays a big role in alcohol-related deaths.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), about 32 people die in a drunk driving-related crash in the United States every day. In 2020, there were 11,654 alcohol-involved traffic fatalities alone—a 14% increase from 2019. With proper safety, all of these deaths could have been prevented.
Drinking and driving is a serious crime. Enforcement of drunk-driving laws and prevention help keep the roads safe for everyone. If a person is caught driving while under the influence of alcohol, they are have to submit to blood or breath alcohol testing. In most states, it is illegal to drive a vehicle with a breath alcohol (BrAC) level of 0.08 or above. Breaking this law can result in misdemeanor or felony offenses. You can also face penalties such as fines, drivers license revocation, alcohol monitoring, and even jail time.
If someone needs alcohol monitoring, they may have to install an ignition interlock (IID) in their car. IIDs measure breath alcohol and stop the car from starting if a driver blows above a pre-set BAC limit. Additional alcohol monitoring devices include portable breath alcohol devices and continuous alcohol monitoring bracelets. These types of alcohol monitoring technology help keep drunk drivers from behind the wheel and can support those on the road to recovery.
Heavy drinking and alcohol use has awful affects on the body. The dangers of alcoholism don’t just stop with health problems. They are also the cause of many preventable traffic fatalities. Drinking in moderation or not at all is a solution. And never getting behind the wheel after drinking alcohol can keep you and others safe and healthy.
Stopping drunk driving starts with Lifesafer. For more information on our IID program call our customer support experts at 800-634-3077.