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June 09, 2021 | Farah Jassawalla

Alcohol is Addictive and Destructive

What’s the first image that comes to your mind when you think of an alcoholic beverage? The answer probably varies from one person to the next because the fact of the matter is that drinking in America falls on a variable spectrum. You could’ve envisioned a heartwarming toast given at a graduation party or a severe and debilitating case of alcoholism.

An alcoholic drink is a fermented drink that contains ethanol. The drink could be supplied as beer, wine, or a spirit. Around 33% of the world’s population has at some point consumed alcohol.

As a recreational drink, alcohol exceeds consumption levels all across the globe and predominantly in the United States. An estimated 86% of the population of the United States has consumed alcohol at some point.

Notwithstanding the fact that alcohol is more of a social drug than it is a taboo one (at least not in the United States), there have been numerous incidents to correlate with these concerns over the addictive and destructive nature of the drug.

Alcohol and the United States

There is a strong debate to suggest that the very first fermented beverage to have ever been produced dates back to the Neolithic era of the Stone Age around 10,000 BCE. However, as time went on, social and religious constraints limited the use of fermented (ethanol-based) drink consumption.

With that being said, several communities adopted the process of fermentation to create a culture out of it. This led to the birth of various drinks and cocktails particular to several countries and communities.

In the United States, alcohol is widely regarded as a social drink and not necessarily as a recreational drink. The prevalence of its use can be estimated by the fact that 86.3% of the entire population has consumed alcohol: 77% of whom have had it in the last year and 33% of whom have had it in the last month.

There’s an aisle dedicated specifically for alcohol in nearly every major departmental store, with some even brandishing their own variations. The fact of the matter is that alcohol is a lax drug. Laws pertaining to the consumption of alcohol are usually centered around over-consumption or consumption while in a position where full alertness would have been required.

General Descriptive Terms

Not everyone who consumes alcohol is an alcoholic. Conversely, not everyone who consumes a heavy amount of alcohol is a chronic alcohol abuser. General descriptive guidelines are therefore necessary to differentiate between varying levels of alcohol use.

  • Moderate Alcohol Consumption - One drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
  • Binge Drinking - More than five drinks consumed on any one occasion in the past 30 days.
  • Heavy Drinking - Five or more drinks consumed on any one occasion for five days in the past 30 days.

The Addictive Nature of Alcohol

Estimates suggest that around 17.6 million people living in the United States suffer from some form of alcohol dependence or chronic alcohol abuse (a term different from heavy alcohol consumption).

Alcohol is a depressant; a psychoactive drug that causes euphoria reduces anxiety and increases sociability. In general terms, the ethanol in alcohol alludes or numbs the conscious parts of your mind. Admittedly, the sensation is often well-liked and therefore chased.

The addictive nature of alcohol is attributed to your brain's pleasure sensations. To put this in context, alcohol releases dopamine and endorphins. These natural ‘happy chemicals’ induce your mind to feel a sense of euphoria.

Once you stop drinking alcohol your brain actively recalls that sensation. Admittedly, your brain doesn’t overtly ask for alcohol - just for that sensation. However, since you’ve attributed that sensation with alcohol consumption, you find yourself reaching for more and more alcohol.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a condition in which you find yourself addicted to alcohol to the extent that the addiction outweighs the numerous health, social, and financial constraints that your drinking imposes.

Around 14.4 million people in the United States (5.8% of the population) suffer from Alcohol Use Disorder. 9.2 million men and 5.3 million women are said to suffer from one form or another of AUD. Of those with alcohol use disorder, only 7.9% of adults aged 18 and over received professional treatment in the past year from a facility specializing in alcohol treatment and rehabilitation.

It is, however, important to understand that AUD is a generalized term and not necessarily seen as a definitive diagnosis of a condition.

How Can You Determine AUD?

  1. Your alcohol consumption encompasses a longer period or higher the number of drinks you had originally intended.
  2. You have actively tried (be it emotionally) to cut down on your alcohol consumption but have so far been unsuccessful.
  3. You find yourself craving alcohol.
  4. Your overconsumption of alcohol has had social manifestations; you’ve missed assignments, deadlines, and other obligations at work, home, or school.
  5. You find yourself spending an unreasonable amount of time procuring, drinking, and then recovering from the effects and aftermath of drinking.
  6. You’re aware of the problems that come with your drinking but consume alcohol regardless.
  7. Your use of alcohol has leached into your personal relationships and has adversely impacted occupational, recreational, or social activities.
  8. Your use of alcohol has been ingrained into several hazardous situations with threats of physical harm.
  9. You're aware of health concerns related to your alcohol use but consume it nonetheless.
  10. You’ve found yourself tolerant to alcohol and therefore require more amounts than previously necessary to achieve the same buzz.
  11. You’ve experienced withdrawal symptoms almost instantly when you limit or eliminate drinking from your life.

If you or anyone you know falls through with the DSM-5 criteria for AUD and has experienced this within the last year, it is best to seek professional help via therapy, support groups, or rehabilitation centers.

How is Alcohol Destructive?

An estimated 88,000 people (with 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes. Alcohol is therefore placed third in the leading preventable causes of death in the United States.

Alcohol consumption is usually prevalent in men with them being twice as more likely to develop alcohol dependence than women. The prevalence of heavy drinking, binge drinking, and alcohol use disorders are highest among men aged 18 to 24 and men who are unemployed.

Around 56% of men in the United States frequently consume alcohol compared to 46% of women.

Alcohol’s Effects on Health

  • Cancer - Alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing breast cancer, oral cancer, throat and esophageal cancer, and colon cancer.
  • Trauma - Alcohol consumption is primarily the underlying cause of trauma (often debilitating or deadly) related to motor vehicle accidents, burns, drownings and falls.
  • Intellectual Disabilities - Pregnant women who consume copious amounts of alcohol run the risk of giving birth to children with physical and mental disabilities. Adults who drink alcohol often have dementia and reportedly do poorly at school.
  • Mental Issues - Increased alcohol intake is related to depressive episodes and anxiety attacks.
  • Health problems - Alcohol use increases the risk of several conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease and digestive issues.

Wrap Up

Alcohol use and dependence is a prevalent yet often unrecognized issue predominant in the United States. The addictive and destructive nature of the beverage has several disastrous effects on a person’s emotional and physical well-being.

If you or someone you know suffers from alcohol-related disturbances or disorders, contact a physician immediately. Your physician can ascertain alcohol dependence (to a reasonable extent) by ordering several tests.

These tests include Alcohol Ethyl B Test (Ethyl B Test).

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Farah Jassawalla

Farah Jassawalla is a graduate of the Lahore School of Economics. She is also a writer, and a healthcare enthusiast, having closely observed case studies while working with Lahore's thriving general physicians at their clinics.