April is National Alcohol Awareness Month, so I spoke with Ana Danielyan, MD, a board-certified internal medicine specialist on staff at , about the effects of alcohol and how to identify if it is a problem.
“People around you may notice that you have a problem before you do,” said Dr. Danielyan. “Some signs that you could have a problem with alcohol are that you think about drinking all the time, have tried to cut down on the amount you drink but can’t, drink more often than you plan to or more than you should, or family or friends have told you that you have a problem.”
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, nearly 14 million Americans, or one in every 13 adults, have alcohol abuse or dependence. Rates of alcohol problems tend to be highest among 18- to 29-year-olds, and lowest among adults age 65 and older. Men are more likely than women to be alcohol dependent or have other kinds of alcohol problems. While alcohol abuse or dependence tends to run in families, problems with alcohol also are influenced by physiological, psychological and social factors as well.
“Heavy drinking can cause a wide range of health concerns, such as stomach ailments, memory loss, hangovers, blackouts and brain damage,” said Dr. Danielyan. “It also raises the risk of liver disease, heart disease, sleep disorders, depression, stroke, several types of cancers, and dying from car accidents, homicide and suicide.”
She noted there are different types of alcohol problems. The most common kinds include:
- Binge drinking, which is defined as consuming five or more drinks in one sitting for men and three or more drinks for women.
- Alcohol abuse, which results in failure to fulfill important school, work or family obligations, or drinking-related legal problems.
- Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism, in which the person has no control over their alcohol use, drinks more to achieve the same effects, and experiences withdrawal symptoms if drinking is stopped suddenly.
If you recognize that you have a drinking problem and want to stop, Dr. Danielyan suggests the following steps to have control in your life:
- You can start by keeping track of how much you drink and counting your drinks accurately. One standard drink is equal to 12 ounces of regular beer, eight to nine ounces of malt liquor, five ounces of table wine, or one and a half ounces of 80-proof spirits.
- Set a goal of how many days a week you want to drink and how many drinks you can have on those days.
- Remember to pace yourself when drinking – have no more than one drink with alcohol per hour – and eat some food so the alcohol is absorbed more slowly into your system.
- Avoid situations that make you drink more and ask for support from non-drinking friends.
Quitting may not be easy, but in return for your efforts you can realize the benefits of improved health, better relationships, and a sense of accomplishment.
Visit Des Peres Hospital’s site for more tips on how to cut back on drinking or how to keep party drinking under control. For more information about problems with alcohol, talk with your doctor or visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website.