Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States – 17.6 million people, or 1 in 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence. Excess alcohol consumption is the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. 88,000 deaths per year are attributed to excessive alcohol use. Up to 40% of all hospital beds in the United States (excluding those being used by maternity and intensive care patients) are currently being used to treat health conditions related to alcohol consumption.
We spoke with Robert Flaherty, MD, Medical Director of Hospitalists, to learn more about alcohol abuse.
Q: What is alcohol abuse? Alcohol abuse means having unhealthy or dangerous drinking habits, such as drinking every day or drinking too much at a time. Alcohol abuse can harm your relationships, cause you to miss work, and lead to legal problems such as drunk driving.
If you abuse alcohol over time, it can lead to alcohol dependence. Alcohol dependence is also called alcoholism. You are physically or mentally addicted to alcohol. You have a strong need, or craving, to drink to get through the day.
Alcoholism is a chronic disease. It's not a weakness or a lack of willpower. Like many other diseases, it has a course that can be predicted, has known symptoms, and is influenced by your genes and your life situation. With support and treatment, many suffering from alcoholism are able to stop drinking and reclaim their lives.
Q: How much drinking is too much? Alcohol is part of many people's lives and has a place in cultural and family traditions. For this reason, it can sometimes be hard to know how much is too much.
You are at risk of drinking too much and should talk to your doctor if you are:
• A woman who has more than 3 drinks at one time or more than 7 drinks a week.
• A man who has more than 4 drinks at one time or more than 14 drinks a week.
One drink is defined as 5 oz. of wine, 12 oz. of beer, or 1.5 oz. of 80 proof spirits.
Q: What are some signs of alcohol abuse? Certain behaviors may mean that you're having trouble with alcohol. These include:
• Drinking in the morning, often being drunk for long periods of time, or drinking alone.
• Changing what type of alcohol you drink because you think it will help you drink less or keep you from getting drunk.
• Feeling guilty about drinking.
• Making excuses for your drinking or doing things to hide it, such as buying alcohol at different stores.
• Not remembering what you did while you were drinking (blackouts).
• Worrying that you won't be able to get enough alcohol for an evening or weekend.
If you or a loved one is dealing with alcohol abuse, visit www.ncadd.org/get-help to learn about the support and treatment options available to you.