Ethyl alcohol is the often over-glamorized intoxicating ingredient in beer, wine, and liquor. Entire stores are dedicated to featuring the finest labels, the prettiest bottles, and latest blends to be put on your counter and shared with your dinner guests. Alcohol is a legal drug, but it is just as addictive as many illegal drugs.
The simple fermentation process of sugars, starches, and yeast produces a depressant that creates significant changes in the central nervous system when delivered from the small intestine and stomach into the bloodstream. The effects of alcohol on each person are different and have a lot to do that person’s age, weight, overall health, gender, and genetics. All people are affected by alcohol when they drink it. Alcohol always has an effect on the brain, in any amount. This is true when it is taken regularly or just once. Over time, in excess, it can wreak havoc on health.
“As my drinking progressed, more things started to happen,” says Julie R. of Heroes in Recovery, who celebrated 13 years of recovery recently. “At one point I saw moving as a way out – it seemed to be my only option. I thought that if I could change the scenery, the people, or the location where I worked, then I could start over. The only problem was that everywhere I went, there I was. Unless I was ready and willing to change, my life as I knew it would not change.”
Communication pathways within the brain are disrupted with alcohol use. Overall, the body’s natural immune systems are inhibited and weakened as well. This makes chronic drinkers more at risk for contracting common sicknesses, especially within 24 hours of being drunk. While moderate use of alcohol is supposed to have potentially protective powers against coronary heart disease, alcohol abuse frequently leads to more serious heart, pancreas, and liver problems, and even to cancer.1
Problem drinking can look different for every person. Heavy drinking is defined by SAMHSA as having five drinks in one sitting on at least five separate occasions during a 30-day period. Generally, moderate drinking is defined as having no more than two or three drinks a day, never totaling more than seven drinks in a week.
It’s very important to be aware of what constitutes “a drink.” Many people who struggle with alcohol prolong denial of the problem by inaccurately calculating what a drink means. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines one drink in these very specific measurements:
- 12 fluid oz. of beer
- 8-9 fluid oz. of malt liquor
- 5 fluid oz. of table wine
- 3-4 fluid oz. of fortified wine (such as sherry or port; 3.5 oz. shown)
- 2-3 fluid oz. of cordial, liqueur, or aperitif (2.5 oz. shown)
- 1.5 fluid oz. of brandy or cognac
- 1.5 fluid oz. shot of 80-proof distilled spirits
“Heavy drinking is defined by SAMHSA as having five drinks in one occasion on at least 5 separate occasions during a 30-day period.”Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
So, if you have a 10-ounce restaurant serving of wine in one glass, you are having two drinks. Each standard bottle of wine usually serves at least five drinks. One long island iced tea usually contains much more than one serving of alcohol. It’s important to get used to measuring alcohol in this way so as to avoid inadvertently consuming too much.
When Does Alcohol Use Become a Problem?
Alcohol use disorders are serious business. It is important to know the signs of a problem. Like most issues, alcohol use disorder (alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse) often go undiagnosed until problems become severe. If you are concerned about your drinking or the drinking of a loved one, be on the lookout for these signs and symptoms:
- Continuing to drink even after unpleasant, embarrassing or dangerous consequences
- Feeling cravings or a strong need to consume alcohol
- Trying to cut down on alcohol use, but being unable to go without alcohol
- Drinking more than was intended, often for longer periods of time than intended
- Hiding drinking or estimating less drinks than were actually consumed
- Inability to stop drinking after one drink
- Engaging in risky or out-of-character behaviors while drinking, or in order to begin drinking
- Developing a tolerance — needing more alcohol than before to feel drunk
- Experiencing withdrawal — feeling shaky or ill when not drinking, or taking another substance to avoid withdrawal
People who have specific health problems or are on medications drink at their own risk. The effects of alcohol can be heightened or worsened by a number of health conditions or medications. In some cases, interactions between alcohol and medications or health conditions result in increased illness or even overdose.
If a person plans to operate any type of machine or to drive a car, that person should not have a drink within a few hours of doing so. Underage drinking can impact brain development. Alcohol should never be consumed in any level during pregnancy or when desiring and planning or likely to become pregnant.3
Alcohol does affect judgment, and alcohol use disorder will lead to compulsive alcohol use, alcohol dependence, and even permanent physical and neurological damage. Alcohol can make people behave in ways that they later regret, or cause them to forget chunks of time. Despite this, people are still responsible for their actions while drinking. Increased feelings of shame and guilt make it more difficult to seek help, which creates a vicious cycle of substance use and regret.
But this cycle can be broken. An understanding and experienced treatment program can help break through shame and create healing for everyone involved. Skywood Treatment offers an evidence-based, non-judgmental approach to addiction recovery. Speak with one of our recovery specialists today at 269-280-4673 to find out how we can help you or someone you love.
1 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol’s Effects on the Body. Retrieved 7 Jul 2017.
2 National Institute of Health.Rethinking Drinking. Retrieved 7 Jul 2017.
3 Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol and Public Health.2017 Jun. Retrieved 7 Jul 2017.