Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse
Alcoholism (alcohol dependence) and alcohol abuse are two different forms of problem drinking.
- Alcoholism is when you have signs of physical addiction to alcohol and continues to drink, despite problems with physical health, mental health, and social, family, or job responsibilities. Alcohol may control your life and relationships.
- Alcohol abuse is when your drinking leads to problems, but not physical addiction.
Causes, Incidence, and Risk Factors
There is no known cause of alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Research suggests that certain genes may increase the risk of alcoholism, but which genes and how they work are not known.
How much you drink can influence your chances of becoming dependent. Those at risk for developing alcoholism include:
- Men who have 15 or more drinks a week
- Women who have 12 or more drinks a week
- Anyone who has five or more drinks per occasion at least once a week
One drink is defined as a 12-ounce bottle of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or a 1 1/2-ounce shot of liquor.
You have an increased risk for alcohol abuse and dependence if you have a parent with alcoholism.
You may also be more likely to abuse alcohol or become dependent if you:
- Are a young adult under peer pressure
- Have depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, or schizophrenia
- Have easy access to alcohol
- Have low self-esteem
- Have problems with relationships
- Live a stressful lifestyle
- Live in a culture alcohol use is more common and accepted
Alcohol abuse is rising. Around 1 out of 6 people in the United States have a drinking problem.
People who have alcoholism or alcohol abuse often:
- Continue to drink, even when health, work, or family are being harmed
- Drink alone
- Become violent when drinking
- Become hostile when asked about drinking
- Are not able to control drinking -- being unable to stop or reduce alcohol intake
- Make excuses to drink
- Miss work or school, or have a decrease in performance because of drinking
- Stop taking part in activities because of alcohol
- Need to use alcohol on most days to get through the day
- Neglect to eat or eat poorly
- Do not care about or ignore how they dress or whether they are clean
- Try to hide alcohol use
- Shake in the morning or after periods when they have not a drink
Symptoms of alcohol dependence include:
- Memory lapses after heavy drinking
- Needing more and more alcohol to feel "drunk"
- Alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you haven't had a drink for a whle
- Alcohol-related illnesses such as,alcoholic liver disease
Alcoholism is a major social, economic, and public health problem. Problem drinking can affect every part of a person's life. If you have an alcohol problem, abstinence can help improve your mental and physical health and possibly, your relationships.
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse can increase your risk of many health problems, including:
- Bleeding in the digestive tract
- Brain cell damage
- Brain disorder calledWernicke-Korsakoff syndrome
- Cancer of the esophagus, liver, colon, and other areas
- Changes in the mentrual cycle (period)
- Delirium tremens (DT's)
- Dementia and memory loss
- Depression and suicide
- Erectile dysfunction
- Heart damage
- High blood pressure
- Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
- Liver disease includingcirrhosis
- Nerve damage
- Poor nutrition
- Sleeping problems (insomnia)
Alcohol use also increases your risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and violence.
Drinking alcohol while you are pregnant can lead to severe birth defects in the baby.
Alcohol and Teens
Alcohol is the most frequently used drug by teenagers in the United States. About half of junior high and senior high school students drink alcohol on a monthly basis, and 14% of teens have been intoxicated at least once in the past year. Nearly 8% of teens who drink say they drink at least five or more alcoholic drinks in a row (binge drink).
- Alcohol decreases teens' ability to pay attention.
- Teens who have experienced alcohol withdrawal tend to have difficulties with memory.
- In contrast to adults, teens tend to abuse alcohol with other substances, usually marijuana.
- Male teens who drink heavily tend to complete fewer years of education compared to male teens who do not.
- The younger a person is when they begin drinking, the more likely they are to develop a problem with alcohol.
- Each year, almost 2,000 people under the age of 21 years die in car crashes in which underage drinking is involved. Alcohol is involved in nearly half of all violent deaths involving teens.
- More than three times the number of eighth-grade girls who drink heavily said they have attempted suicide compared to girls in that grade who do not drink.
- Intoxication is associated with suicide attempts using more lethal methods, and positive blood alcohol levels are often found in people who complete suicide.
- Teens who drink are more likely to engage in sexual activity, have unprotected sex, have sex with a stranger, or be the victim or perpetrator of a sexual assault.
- Excess alcohol use can cause or mask other emotional problems, like anxiety or depression.
- Drinking in excess can lead to the use of other drugs, likemarijuana, cocaine, or heroin.
Take the pledge; make a difference to prevent alcohol abuse by teens. Click here.
How can parents prevent alcohol use?
Clear communication byparents about the negative effects of alcohol, as well as about their expectations regarding drug use, have been found to significantly decrease alcohol use in teens. Adequate parental supervision has also been found to be a deterrent to alcohol use in youth. Alcohol, and other drug use, has been found to occur most often between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., immediately after school and prior to parents' arrival at home from work. Teen participation in extracurricular activities has therefore been revealed to be an important measure in preventing use of alcohol in this age group. Parents can also help educate teens about appropriate coping andstress-management strategies.
Family risk factors for teenagers developing drinking problems include low levels of parent supervision or communication, family conflicts, inconsistent or severe parental discipline, and a family history of alcohol or drug abuse. Individual risk factors include problems managing impulses, emotional instability, thrill-seeking behaviors, and perceiving the risk of using alcohol to be low.
Some of the most common symptoms of alcohol abuse in teenagers include lying, making excuses, breaking curfew, staying in their room, becoming verbally or physically abusive toward others, having items in their possession that are connected to alcohol use (paraphernalia), the smell of alcohol on their breath or body, mood swings, stealing, and changes in friends
Alcohol and Hazing
While hazing does not necessarily involve alcohol use by either current or new members, often alcohol consumption is either a central or contributing element
Consumption as a condition for admission to a group
Any consumption of alcohol, other drugs, or other substances that is "an explicit or implicit condition for initiation to, admission into, affiliation with, or continued membership in a group or organization" is hazing. This definition is applied regardless of the level of pressure to drink.
On the continuum of coercion to drink, an implicit condition may be as subtle as inviting new members to sit and drink with members while watching television. Or it can be more explicit, such as lining up fifteen shots and asking which of the new members can consume them in fifteen minutes.
Pressure to participate in drinking rituals
A common argument in defense of groups that pressure new members to drink is that they do not "force anyone to drink." Comments such as "No one poured it down their throats," and "They could have walked out at any time" ignore the reality of coercive power in groups and the fact that psychological force can be as strong as physical force.
Alcohol plays two main roles in hazing:
1. Consumption by current members. Intoxication of current members is in essence "strategic disinhibition" designed to achieve the following:
- Enhance the fun of making new members go through experiences that current members had to endure.
- Reduce anxiety or guilt about subjecting new members to mental and physical distress. Alcohol enables members who feel conflicted about hazing to temporarily suspend their moral standards.
- Provide a sense of "insurance" against culpability by allowing hazers to point to their inebriated state as the explanation for hazing incidents. The "we were drunk and things just got out of hand" defense seeks to obscure that fact that hazing is generally premeditated and systematic. Intoxication, however, is not a valid legal defense.
2. Consumption by new members. Providing alcohol to new members can serve a variety of functions, including the following:
- As a "social lubricant," alcohol is used to increase new members' comfort with each other and facilitate self-disclosure that can enhance group bonding.
- Alcohol impairs the judgment of new members thus decreasing their resistance to engaging in risky behavior.
- When combined with their lack of knowledge about what they are being subjected to, being intoxicated further lowers new members' power relative to those who are hazing them.
- The withholding of alcohol at times from new members while current members drink serves to underscore the "privilege" of full membership, thus increasing the desirability of both alcohol and membership.
Heavy drinking can also lead to a wide range of negative consequences such as injuries and memory loss. It can also contribute to being sexually victimized. Whenever a person is severely intoxicated, it is imperative that someone call for medical assistance.