Alcohol is one of the most consumed drink-types in the world. According to the World Health Organization’s 2014 report, each person ages 15 and older in the world consumed on average 13.5 grams of alcohol each day. That equates to 72 million litres of the substance consumed each year.
Not only is alcohol one of the most consumed substances in the world, it’s also one of the deadliest substances. Some troubling statistics related to alcohol misuse include:
- According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, around 38 million American adults said that on average they binge drank four times per month between 2010 and 2012.
- According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, people who started drinking alcohol before age 15 are five times more likely to become addicted to alcohol than those who started drinking the substance no earlier than age 21.
- According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, produced by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, there were 15.1 million adults who suffered from a substance use disorder related to alcohol.
- The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that 88,000 people die from alcohol-related deaths each year. This ranks as the third-leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.
Drinking too much alcohol can come with numerous consequences. However, an excess amount of alcohol consumption can differ for each person, depending on factors such as gender, age, height and weight. Understanding the effects of drinking alcohol, knowing how much is too much and recognizing the signs of a potential dependency are important for adults and teenagers.
What happens when people drink too much? Aside from being intoxicated, there are quite a few health risks that can occur from drinking too much alcohol.
The website Medical News Today lists some of the health risks that people who consume a lot of alcohol might face, including:
- Immune system issues — Drinking too much alcohol can drop the white blood cell count because the substance blocks the body’s production of white blood cells and traps them in the spleen. This change in the blood cell count can result in infections and illnesses, including pneumonia and HIV.
- Pancreatitis — The inflammation of the pancreas, also known as pancreatitis this disease can occur due to exposure of the pancreas to acetaldehydes and the activation of proenzymes to pancreatic enzymes.
- Liver disease — This risk occurs because the body metabolizes alcohol in the liver. Once metabolized, alcohol becomes acetaldehyde, a toxic substance. Drinking too much alcohol can result in the liver being less effective in metabolizing fats, resulting in an excess of fat building up in the organ. Other effects that alcohol has on the liver include long-term inflammation and scarring.
- Physical injuries — Since alcohol impairs someone’s vision, balance, reaction time, and decision-making skills, a heavy consumption of the substance can cause motor vehicle accidents or other situations where an injury could occur. Alcohol consumption has even been linked to suicides and accidental deaths, such as drownings and severe head injuries.
- Brain damage — Drinking alcohol is associated with being intoxicated and the side effects that most people connect to being drunk. These effects include blurry vision, memory loss, and difficulty walking or maintaining balance. Alcohol can cause permanent changes to a person’s central nervous system and can impact how well someone processes information.
- Malnourishment and vitamin deficiencies — Alcohol consumption can block the metabolism of necessary vitamins and nutrients, which are needed to convert food into energy. Drinking too much alcohol can lead to a low amount of vitamins in the body and contribute to nutritional deficiencies, such as a thiamine deficiency.
- Cancer — Consuming a large amount of alcohol can result in many types of cancer, including mouth, stomach, liver, colon and breast cancer. This disease occurs due to the presence of alcohol and acetaldehydes, which can damage DNA and prevent cells from repairing internal damage. Acetaldehyde also causes liver cells to grow faster, which can lead to the new cells picking up genetic changes that lead to cancer.
- Osteoporosis — Causing a loss of bone mass, osteoporosis can lead to a higher-than-average number of broken bones which may cause long-term injuries to the back or legs. Alcohol also can impact the balance of calcium, vitamin D production and cortisol levels, which in turn could further weaken a person’s bone structure.
Not only does consuming a lot of alcohol pose physical risks, but it also can ruin relationships with family members, friends and co-workers. Drinking too much alcohol can alter a person’s mood and personality, and it can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression. Additionally, drinking a consistent amount of alcohol, like many illicit and prescription drugs, can cause a physical dependence and lead to an addiction. When this happens, the body is reliant on the substance for proper functioning, and the absence of alcohol can lead to shaking, nausea and other symptoms.
However, consuming alcohol is quite popular because of the good feelings that people experience when the drink the substance. Many people become more social and friendly because they feel more confident. The impaired effects that alcohol often has on a person’s mind and personality can make it psychologically addictive, because people enjoy how they feel when they are drunk. This psychological dependence is in addition to the physical dependence that forms from consistent consumption.
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How Do I Know If I Drink Too Much?
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that impairs a person’s vision, motor skills, mood and decision-making. It’s possible to drink too much in one instance and not realize it, as alcohol can make people feel good about themselves or experience a spike in energy. According to the CDC, alcohol poisoning is responsible for 2,200 deaths each year.
However, there are some signs to look for when someone asks if they drink too much. The website Health.com lists what to watch for and recognize to identify a potential alcohol addiction:
- Someone is unable to stick to limits on the number of drinks they set for themselves before they started drinking.
- A friend, family member or doctor makes a comment about a person’s level of drinking.
- The majority of a person’s social interactions involve drinking alcohol.
- Consuming alcohol is one of the top ways someone relieves stress.
The number of days in a week that a person drinks alcohol is not automatically indicative of whether or not they drink too much. Some people might casually drink four times per week, while others might drink only twice but do so in a psychologically or physically damaging way, such as drinking an excessive amount or doing so out of necessity to remove stress. Recognizing the reasons that someone drinks, along with how many drinks they intake in one day or week, is more indicative of whether or not that person has a substance use disorder.
How Many Drinks Are Too Many?
Many people wonder how much is drinking too much. According to PBS, a multinational study analyzed the drinking habits and physical health of 600,000 people. The researchers found that people who drank more than 100 grams of alcohol per week were more at risk of suffering a stroke, heart failure or heart disease. Six glasses of wine is nearly equivalent to 100 grams of alcohol.
However, there is no exact answer for every person. Physical attributes and genetics play a factor in how much alcohol consumption is considered in excess and dangerous. Since each person is unique, they have different tolerance levels. Additionally, a person’s diet can determine how much of an affect alcohol consumption has on the transformation of vitamins into energy-creating nutrients.
Even though alcohol consumption is legal, the substance can still be harmful, even deadly. If you or someone you know drinks alcohol regularly and often relies on the substance to remove stress or needs it to have fun, they could have a substance use disorder. Alcohol addiction has affected millions of lives, but help is available. The Recovery Village has a network of rehabilitation facilities with a dedicated staff of doctors, nurses and counselors who can treat for any substance use disorder, including ones related to alcohol.