Category Archives: Alcohol Addiction

The Physical Effects of Long-term Alcohol Abuse  

surgeons performing surgery

The statistics on alcohol abuse in the United State are alarming. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 15.1 million adults over the age of eighteen meet the criteria for an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). In addition, roughly 88,000 people die each year form alcohol related causes, and alcohol-impaired driving incidents cause close to 10,000 deaths per year. More troubling than these raw numbers is the fact that only about 1.8 million of individuals who meet the criteria for an AUD receive appropriate treatment at a specialized facility – less than ten percent.

That’s not all. In 2010, Americans spent an estimated 249 billion dollars on health issues related to alcohol misuse.

Worldwide, the toll of alcohol shows similarly scary numbers:

  • In 2012, alcohol consumption contributed to 3.3 million deaths.
  • In 2014, the World Health Organization reported that alcohol misuse caused over two-hundred diseases and adverse health conditions.
  • Alcohol misuse is characterized as the fifth leading risk factor for premature death and disability in the 15-49 year-old age group, while close to 25% of total deaths in the 20-39 year-old age group can be attributed to alcohol.

If you’re a drinker and you’re worried about your risk of developing an AUD, the first thing to do is determine your level of drinking. Heavy drinkers are at far greater risk of developing an AUD than low-to-moderate drinkers. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines heavy drinking as the consumption of five or more drinks on the same occasion on each of five or more days over the period of one month. In plain language, that means if you’ve had more than five drinks – probably meaning you got pretty drunk – more than five times in the past thirty days, you’re at high risk of developing a potentially life-threatening AUD.

Check Yourself, Check Your Health

Maybe you know you have a problem with drinking. Maybe you drink heavily every day, but still manage to keep it all together. You show up for work, you manage your family obligations, and your health hasn’t started to suffer – yet. Maybe you know some form of treatment for your alcohol use is in your future, but you’re not quite ready for treatment yet. You’re not ready to take the plunge into rehab, therapy, or even weekly support group meetings, because, despite your heavy drinking, everything seems to be going fine.

The operative word in that last sentence is seems. In the case of chronic alcohol misuse – the kind that takes place over years – what you don’t know can, quite literally, kill you. That’s why it’s in your best interest to get checked out by a physician, even if you know you’re not going into treatment any time soon.

If the statistics haven’t convinced you to at least consider a visit to the doctor, perhaps this next set of facts will.

The Effects of Alcohol on Your Major Organs

You probably know alcohol wreaks havoc on your liver, but that’s not the only organ that suffers under chronic alcohol use. Let’s take a look at the other organs negatively impacted by alcohol use, starting at the top.

The Brain

Alcohol can damage the function and structure of your brain. Recent technology in brain imaging shows significant decrease in brain tissue. Chronic over-consumption of alcohol can also lead to Wernicke’s-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS) a condition caused by vitamin B-1 deficiency. WKS is no picnic: effects may include alcoholic dementia, short-term memory loss, the inability to learn new information, cognitive impairment, eye problems, poor physical coordination, and difficulty walking.

The Heart 

Most people have read or heard that moderate alcohol consumption – say a glass or two of wine a day – is good for the cardiovascular system. What most people haven’t heard is that heavy alcohol consumption can damage your heart. Chronic, excessive drinking can to cardiomyopathy, which is a heart disease with symptoms like dizziness, fainting, shortness of breath, swelling of the lower extremities, fatigue, abnormal pulse, and cough accompanied by a frothy, pink discharge. Unfortunately, the symptoms of cardiomyopathy can stay hidden until it’s too late, and heart failure is imminent.

The Liver

Alcohol-related liver disease comes in three primary forms:

  1. Alcoholic Cirrhosis. Cirrhosis means scarring. Therefore, alcoholic cirrhosis, simply put, means severe scarring and liver damage, with symptoms similar to severe alcoholic hepatitis. You cannot reverse cirrhosis, but if you catch it early enough you can prevent further damage. Left untreated, cirrhosis causes permanent damage which can only be improved by a liver transplant. In 2013, over 30,000 people died from alcohol related liver disease, and close to one-third of liver transplants were alcohol related.
  2. Alcoholic Hepatitis. This condition causes an increase in fat, inflammation, and mild cirrhosis. People suffering from alcoholic cirrhosis often experience nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, stomach pain, fever, and jaundice. Statistics show that close to 35% of heavy drinkers develop alcoholic hepatitis. While mild cases can be reversed if you quit drinking, more extreme cases may develop quickly and can lead to severe complications, including death.
  3. Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. This condition is characterized by a buildup of fat in liver tissue, which impedes optimal function. Occasionally there are no symptoms at all. Of the three liver diseases caused by excessive alcohol consumption, alcoholic fatty liver disease is the least damaging, and can be reversed – but only if you quit drinking.

Alcohol and Cancer

Liver disease is the most common and well-known health risk associated with heavy drinking, but it’s not the only serious, chronic illness related to excessive alcohol use. The American Cancer Society (ACS) links the following forms of cancer to alcohol:

  • Mouth
  • Throat
  • Voice Box
  • Esophagus
  • Colon
  • Rectum
  • Breast

The message from the ACS is clear and simple: the more you drink, the higher your risk of getting cancer.

Our message to you is also clear and simple: if you know you have an alcohol problem, but you’re not ready to enter treatment, you need to go to a doctor and get a full health examination. You may not be showing symptoms yet, but beneath the surface, things may be headed in a very bad direction.

We understand not wanting to enter treatment for an Alcohol Use Disorder. Detox is hard, sobriety is harder, and recovery is a lifelong process. We understand you might not want to improve your psychological and emotional well-being, because right now, you’re functioning just fine. However, that body you’re living in is the only one you’ve got. We want to make sure you know, in no uncertain terms, that chronic, excess drinking can cause many conditions that are permanent, irreversible, and in some cases, fatal.

College Students Ask: Is My Drinking Really a Problem? Do I Need Addiction Treatment for Alcohol?

college students sitting on bench

Summertime means different things for different college students. Some travel abroad, some take classes to catch up or get ahead, some stay busy with internships or jobs, and some take a well-deserved break from the school grind to chill, relax, and recharge their internal batteries. It’s a natural time to look back on the year, decide how it went, and make plans for the upcoming semester.

If your year went well, then you’re probably loving summer, but you’re also looking forward to getting back on campus. If your year wasn’t great, then maybe you have a little more on your mind. Maybe your grades weren’t what you wanted. Maybe you partied more than you should have. Maybe you drank a little too much.

Maybe you think your drinking affected your grades.

Maybe it’s more than that: you know you went way overboard with the partying and drinking and you’re sure that’s why your grades weren’t up to par. Then you kept up the partying through the summer, and now you think you may have a problem. Worse, you know when you go back to school – where the excessive drinking started – it’s going to be really hard to keep yourself in check.

Now you’re worried: what should you do?

Do you see a professional? Go to support group meetings? Get addiction treatment? Do you do all that before you go back to school, so you set yourself up for success?

Those are all valid questions. If you’re asking them of yourself, you should take them seriously. The first thing you need to do is figure out if your drinking really is a problem. In the language of treatment and recovery, it’s time for you to decide – and be brutally honest with yourself – if your drinking is within typical limits, or if you have what’s called an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).

What is an Alcohol Use Disorder?

The handbook used by mental health professionals to diagnose and classify mental health and substance abuse disorders is called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V). If you think you have a problem with alcohol, then you can use the following questionnaire – as recommended by the DSM-V – to diagnose yourself.

In the past year, have you…

  1. Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
  2. More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  3. Spent a lot of time drinking, or being sick and getting over the after-effects of drinking?
  4. Wanted a drink so badly you couldn’t think of anything else?
  5. Found that drinking, or being sick from drinking, often interfered with taking care of your home or family, cause job-related troubles, or problems with school?
  6. Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  7. Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  8. More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt?
  9. Continued to drink even after a memory blackout, and even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem?
  10. Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want, or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  11. Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, sensing things that were not there, or seizures?

If you answer yes to two or more of the questions above, then the DSM-V indicates you have an AUD. AUDs can be mild, moderate, or sever:

  • Mild: positive answers to two or three of the diagnostic questions.
  • Moderate: positive answers to four or five of the diagnostic questions.
  • Severe: positive answers to six or more of the diagnostic questions.

Common Levels of Alcohol Use

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offer simple definitions of alcohol consumption and how these levels affect general health and wellness. If you’re unsure where you fall on the continuum, use these guidelines to clarify your position:

  • Moderate Alcohol Consumption: Up to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
  • Binge Drinking: Five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women in a two-hour period on at least one day over the course of a month.
  • Heavy Alcohol Consumption: Binge drinking on five or more days over the course of a month.

These definitions align with what most people know through personal experience. Moderate consumption is what everyone would consider normal, social drinking. Binge drinking tends to happen in college or early adulthood. Heavy drinking is what happens when consumption gets out of hand and becomes an obvious problem.

However, these three categories beg the question: “What constitutes one drink?” Serving sizes and alcohol content can vary a great deal. Drinking at a bar or restaurant is not the same as drinking at a private party, and the amount of alcohol in a drink depends on what you’re drinking: beer, malt liquor, wine, and distilled spirits all contain different percentages of alcohol. Here’s how the NIAAA defines a standard drink:

  • 12 ounces of beer containing around 5% alcohol. Think of a regular can of beer.
  • 8-9 ounces of malt liquor containing around 7% alcohol. Think of a pint glass around half-full.
  • 5 ounces of wine containing around 12% alcohol. Think of a regular glass of wine you might get with dinner at a restaurant.
  • 5 ounces of distilled spirits (liquor like vodka, whiskey, gin, or tequila) containing around 40% alcohol (80 proof). Think of a regular-sized shot glass.

Are You at Risk of Developing an Alcohol Use Disorder?

Based on the figures above, the NIAA defines low-risk drinking as:

  • Less than three drinks a day and seven drinks a week for women.
  • Less than four drinks a day and fourteen drinks a week for men.

Only around 2% of people who drink within these limits – i.e. low-to-moderate drinkers – develop an AUD. Consumption above these levels increases the chance of developing an AUD. The NIAA College Fact Sheet reveals that the drinking habits of college students make them particularly vulnerable to developing an AUD. The facts speak for themselves:

  • Close to 67% of college students who reported drinking at least once a month also engage in binge drinking
  • Binge drinkers who consume alcohol at least three times a week are six times more likely to perform poorly on a test due to drinking, and five times more likely to miss a class due to drinking
  • Roughly 25% of college students report alcohol negatively impacts their academic performance
  • About 20% of college students meet the DSM-V established criteria for an AUD.

Now, re-read the NIAA definition of low-risk drinking. If your drinking habits exceed those parameters and put you in the at-risk category, then it’s time to face the facts: you may well be on your way to an Alcohol Use Disorder. And if you know you have a problem, then it’s time to consider treatment options. It’s not time to freak out, but it is time to do something about it.

Back to that initial question: should you do something about it before you go back, to set yourself up for success?

The answer is simple: yes.

Take the time you have now to lay down the foundation for a successful year. Call us at 800-701-6997 and we’ll do everything we can to help you get control of your drinking and get your life on track. Also, keep an eye on this blog: upcoming posts will discuss the Sober Dorm movement happening on college campuses across the country, and provide an extensive list of helpful resources designed specifically for college students struggling to make it through school while in recovery from alcohol and substance abuse.

 

Gene’s Story

gene“I grew up in a household filled with alcoholism and co-dependency,” says Gene. When he was 13 years old his parents divorced and he moved to Northern California from Southern California. He began using alcohol and drugs in his early teens. “I was introduced to marijuana at 13 years old and from that point I did all type of drugs,” says Gene.  For the next decade he was abusing alcohol and drugs regularly.

In an attempt to quit, he entered military service in his early 20s. But, that proved ineffective as the urge to use drugs was more powerful than military life. “I was asked to leave because of cocaine use,” says Gene.

In the mid-1980s, Gene’s family and friends staged an intervention and he went into a treatment program.  “I was able to stay sober for 13 years and I got my life back on track,” says Gene.  But, Gene relapsed “while sober I didn’t take care of the underlying issues that caused my addiction and expand my spiritual life,” he says.

During an especially difficult life changes – divorce and job layoff – Gene slipped into taking prescription pain pills and illegal narcotics. For the next decade Gene went through the darkest moments of his life. “I dealt with alcohol blackouts, started using cocaine again, and overdosed,” says Gene.  “I was tired of living this way.”

A few friends of Gene found Summit Estate.  In summer of 2015, they encourage him to give it a try. “Summit Estate’s approach to recovery was different – a holistic view of overall health,” says Gene. Summit Estate introduced him to healthy ways to deal with his addiction and how to live differently – without drugs and alcohol. “Summit Estate thought me how to just sit with myself, how to breathe when confronted with difficult situation, how to mediate, and I even started practicing yoga – simple steps that helped a lot,” says Gene.

“Summit Estate introduced me to a holistic approach to recovery – it felt like recovery 2.0 – they taught me to take care all the aspects of life to gain true recovery,” says Gene.

Gene is continuing with his recovery and he is also helping others who are on their own journey of recovery. “At Summit Estate I learned to identify those triggers that would cause a relapse and how to deal with them without jeopardizing my recovery,” he says.

Now 55 years old, “I am in a good place spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically,” says Gene. His sense of humor also continues to be a source of strength by living life on life’s terms. “I am in the 3rd quarter of my life and looking forward to overtime,” jokes Gene.

How To Help A Family Member Who Is An Alcoholic

Helping A Family Member Who Is An AlcoholicThere’s an old adage that family is where life begins and love never ends. The bond established between a newborn infant and a doting parent may be the most powerful connection on Earth. The love that parents feel for their children can move mountains. The profound connection between siblings lasts a lifetime. There’s simply no denying that family emotions run deep.

Helping A Family Member Who Is An Alcoholic

Yet, what happens when alcohol causes a family member to go from being your best friend to someone you don’t recognize. What if your mother, father, sister or brother crosses over from being a social drinker into a problem drinker? It doesn’t happen overnight, and families often socialize and drink together. In fact, it seems that the unconditional love and support that families provide can also serve as obstacles that prevent alcoholics from getting effective treatment.

Break Through Denial

One of the trickiest parts of dealing with an alcoholic is being able to communicate about the problem. Denial is a core element of alcoholism which means most alcoholics are reluctant to openly admit that anything is wrong. In fact, they will often go to great lengths to hide their problem – especially from family members and other loved ones. Keeping open communication and avoiding judgmental dialog can be particularly beneficial during the early efforts in getting a family member into treatment.

Avoid Enabling

The desire to help a family member is natural. However, certain types of help can be detrimental to an alcoholic. Enabling in the form of providing monetary support, shelter, or legal assistance often worsens the problem. Help should be squarely focused on getting the alcoholic the treatment they need.

Focus On The Family

Often, the alcoholic demands an excessive amount of attention which can leave family members feeling neglected and resentful. While there needs to be a goal of getting the individual the treatment required, the focus must remain on the health of the family. Balancing life and managing a relationship with an alcoholic is never easy. For many, a support group can help alleviate some of the negative emotions associated with dealing with an alcoholic family member.

Do You Have An Alcoholic Family Member Who Needs Help?

While alcoholism is a family disease, this doesn’t mean that it should be solely contained within the family. Professional treatment can provide the foundation for a lifetime of recovery. To learn more about treatment for alcoholism, call now to speak with an addiction specialist at Summit Estate.

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Binge Drinking In College: What You Need To Know

College LectureAlthough studies suggest underage drinking, including binge drinking, is on the decline, the fight to curb alcohol consumption among college students is far from finished. The same data that shows that underage binge drinking is down cannot confirm that the situation has gotten significantly better for college-aged Americans.

In general, heavy alcohol consumption among college students impacts a wide variety of people beyond the ones doing the drinking. Those who can be affected negatively include, but are not limited to:

  • Parents of those students
  • Deans and other university officials
  • Campus and local police
  • Residents and property owners near the campus

College drinking typically takes place at the following locations: fraternity parties, residence halls, athletic events (tailgating, most likely), off-campus housing areas, bars and restaurants near campus, and in or nearby concert venues. The farther the drinking location is from campus, the higher probability a student will drive drunk or ride with somebody who’s intoxicated as they make their way back toward the school.

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