Alcohol abuse is as damaging as that of any other drug. NCADD, the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, states that 2.5 million people die every year around the world from alcohol-related causes. Moderate drinking is defined as the consumption of one drink a day for women and two for men. Binge drinking is classified as more than four drinks at a time for women and more than five for men. Binge drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning, and even death. The signs of alcohol poisoning include:
- Unconsciousness or semi-consciousness
- Slow respiration of eight breaths per minute or less, or lapses in between breaths
- Cold, clammy, pale, or bluish skin
If you encounter someone who has suffered from alcohol poisoning, check his/her pulse and call 911. In the meantime, turn the person on his/her side so if (s)he vomits, (s)he is less likely to choke.
Severely intoxicated people die from both internal causes and from lapses in judgment. They can choke on their vomit, stop breathing, or get behind the wheel of a car. Blood alcohol content (BAC) is the amount of alcohol that is present in the blood. Anyone with a blood alcohol level of 0.08% is considered under the influence and will be prosecuted if they’re caught driving. The National Transportation Safety Board recommends lowering the limit to 0.05%. Nearly 10,000 people die every year in alcohol-related car crashes and 170,000 are injured. Higher BAC levels cause problems with basic functioning:
- A BAC of 0.20% can cause severe vomiting with lack of gag reflex, lack of balance, and blackouts.
- A 0.35% BAC causes a coma similar to that induced by anesthesia.
- At a 0.40% BAC, respiratory arrest is likely.
It is also fairly common for highly intoxicated people to wander in front of cars or trains or fall off buildings. These types of accidents are less frequently noted than car wrecks, but are just as likely to occur when someone is severely intoxicated, especially near college campuses.
College and Binge Drinking
Colleges are notorious for binge drinking. About 31% of college students have met the criteria for alcohol abuse. The website Brad21 was created by the family of Bradley McCue, a college senior who died of alcohol poisoning after drinking 24 shots for his 21st birthday. The website contains a wealth of information about binge drinking, especially in college students:
- Alcohol-related incidents kill about 1,400 college students each year.
- Binge drinking is most common between the ages of 19-24.
- Alcohol is associated with more than half of all acquaintance rapes on college campuses.
- Alcohol is involved in about 1/3 of drowning deaths.
- Men are more likely to binge drink than women.
Alcohol use is normalized during college, but if alcoholism sets in early, it is likely to continue through later life. Risk factors for alcohol abuse are as follows:
- Family history of alcohol abuse
- Mental disorders, especially mood disorders such as bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Early use of alcohol
- Poor social skills (alcohol lowers inhibitions and makes people more comfortable in social situations)
- Being surrounded by people who drink a lot
- Dissatisfaction with life
Alcoholism is rampant in the United States. An estimated 30% of Americans will have alcohol addiction problems at some point in their lives. Only about 24% of them will seek help. Here’s some basic information about alcoholism:
- There are two types of alcoholism. Alcohol abuse is the stereotypical heavy drinking. Drunk driving, financial problems, and binge drinking are more often a result of alcohol abuse. Alcohol dependence is when an alcoholic has a high tolerance for alcohol brought on my incessant compulsive drinking.
- Both types of alcoholism are more common in men than women.
- Alcoholism is more common in whites and Native Americans than in blacks, Hispanics, and Asians.
- Alcoholism is most common among people ages 30-60.
- Female alcoholics are less easy to spot, because they are more likely to drink alone.
The Alcohol Effects
The effects of alcohol poisoning are not always immediate. A lot of research has been done on immediate alcohol poisoning caused by binge drinking, but the medical community has just recently started to focus on the diseases caused by long-term alcoholism. Like tobacco, alcohol can do slow damage to the body which leads to cancer and other diseases. Here are a list of conditions that can be caused or exacerbated by alcohol abuse:
- Liver damage
- Mouth cancer
- Breast cancer
- Damage to frontal lobes of brain
- Reduction in brain size
- Mental disorders
More research is needed to determine what other deadly diseases alcohol contributes to, but other effects are well-known. Alcohol also has other unpleasant effects on the body, such as:
- Loss of testosterone in men
- Memory loss
- Chronic diarrhea
- Weight gain (a daily glass of wine will cause a 10 pound yearly weight gain)
Alcohol abuse is usually noticed when it disrupts one’s daily life. Problems can include:
- More frequent arguments with family members
- Financial problems
- Inability to get through a work day
- Risk taking, such as unsafe sex and reckless spending
Alcoholics Can be Helped
It is estimated that out of the quarter or so who seek help, about 50-60% are able to stop drinking. Having strong social support greatly reduces relapse rates. Alcoholics may need to detox, which will rid the liver of alcohol buildup. Detox can initially be dangerous, resulting in seizures, hallucinations, and occasionally death. Detox is usually done at an inpatient alcoholism rehab center to reduce these risks.
After detox, an alcoholic will need counseling and medications to reduce the likelihood of relapse and to help solve the underlying problem that caused the person to become an alcoholic in the first place. Anti-anxiety drugs reduce the symptoms of withdrawal. Other drugs, such as Disulfiram, act as aversion therapy, causing the patient to become violently ill after very small amounts of alcohol. Counseling can include group therapy, one-on-one therapy, or self-help groups. Social support from other ex-alcoholics can reduce the need for people to drink as a social outlet.
Alcoholism is a very common problem and can be fixable if the patient is willing. And given that alcohol poisoning can occur immediately as a result of binge drinking or over many years as a result of liver failure, it’s better to face the problem sooner rather than later. To stay safe, avoid drinking more than one or two drinks a day, and never drink to the point of physical or mental incapacitation.