For many people, having a refreshing beer, a calming glass of wine, or a tasty cocktail is a nice way to end the day, socialize on a night out, or have fun on the weekends. Some savor the taste; others enjoy the “buzz” and the feeling they get after a couple of drinks.
When it comes to drinking alcohol and our health, there are so many mixed messages out there. Some studies say that having a little wine every day is good for your heart, but there have also been many reports about a dangerous increase in binge drinking. And you may be wondering, “Is it ever OK to drink?”
AltaMed is here to give you the facts so you can make a healthy decision that’s right for you.
How Much Drinking is Too Much?
Many people drink not for the taste, but because of how drinking makes them feel (or prevents them from feeling). Over time, those who drink for the effects may find themselves needing more drinks, more often, to achieve that feeling. And drinking to excess, or to the point where it affects your health, your relationships, or your professional life, is alcohol use disorder, more commonly known as alcoholism.
Unfortunately, there’s no one right answer to the question of, “How many drinks separates a casual drinker from someone with a problem?” Some people can drink regularly without it affecting their life and heath, and they can simply quit drinking if they want. Others may develop physical and emotional dependence on alcohol after a very short period of time.
Signs of alcoholism include:
- Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
- Spending an excessive amount of time finding alcohol, drinking, then recovering
- Feeling overwhelming urges to drink
- Not feeling able to face parts of your life without a drink first
- Knowing that alcohol is causing problems with your life, but continuing to drink anyway
- Drinking in unsafe situations – for example, when driving or swimming
Alcoholism is a Serious Disease That Can Be Fatal
Make no mistake: alcoholism is a disease, the same way diabetes or MS are both diseases. It’s not just a character flaw, a lack of willpower, or because you’re a bad person. The astronaut Buzz Aldrin and beloved actor Robin Williams both had drinking problems, and no one would accuse either of them of being weak or evil. In fact, many alcoholics desperately want to quit drinking, but they can’t. It is a condition that affects both the body and the brain.
If left untreated, alcoholism can have serious health consequences, including:
- Diseases of the liver
- Heart problems
- Diabetes complications
- Erectile dysfunction in men; menstruation issues in women Issues with your brain and nervous system that may result in numbness in your hands and feet, dementia, or short-term memory loss
- Increased risk of many cancers, including mouth, throat, liver, esophagus, colon and breast cancers – even moderate drinking can increase the risk of breast cancer
- Drastically increased risks of birth defects and miscarriage in pregnant women
- Increased risk of dying or being seriously injured in car accidents, homicide, suicide, and drowning
Who’s at Highest Risk?
Alcoholism has a genetic component and it runs in families, but there isn’t a simple pattern to determine who will most likely become an alcoholic. According to the latest surveys from the CDC and research on the link between alcoholism and genetics:
- Children of alcoholics are two to four times more likely to develop a drinking problem – but fewer than half go on to become alcoholics themselves.
- While Mexican Americans are less likely to drink than whites, when they do, they’re more likely to drink even more. Mexican Americans are more likely to binge drink.
- Similarly, African Americans are less likely to drink at all but are slightly more likely than whites to be binge drinkers.
- Men, in general, are more likely to drink and drink to excess than women are.
Help is Available, and We’re Here for You
Again, alcoholism is not a moral defect – it’s a serious health problem that requires a serious solution. If you have questions about alcohol use or need referrals to treatment programs, contact AltaMed’s Behavioral Health Services. Even if you’ve tried before to quit drinking, the right care, support, and treatment can make all the difference.