September 9, 2005

When Alcohol becomes a problem

By Ana Hernandez-Bravo

As the long summer days continue and slowly start their wane towards fall, many people like to enjoy the beautiful sunsets, the beach parties, and even just the warm summer wind with an alcoholic drink in hand.

Yet, even enjoying these attributes of summer with a “cold one” can get out of hand. Drinking alcohol itself is not the problem. For the majority of the adult population, moderate alcohol use (up to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women and older people) causes few if any problems.

Underage drinking and not being able to control one’s drinking are the major issues that alcohol consumption brings into the society.

During the summer many underage drinkers cross the border to gain access to alcohol many times at the dance clubs. With the new school year advancing quickly, if not already started, underage drinking will once again be seen at many high school and college parties. College students usually tend to be resistant to outreach programs because they do not see drinking as a problem. However, drinking alcohol in excess is a problem that leads to many other problems.

Many alcohol-related car crashes, injuries, and even confrontations with other people happen within the demographics of people ages 18-24. Also many rape and/or sexual harassment cases also can have ties to over-drinking such as when the victim is “persuaded” to drink by their attacker in order to minimize resistance or when the victim is unconscious from over drinking.

Also not remembering what actually happened in certain situations can also be attributed to heavy drinking. 400,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 had unprotected sex and more than 100,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex (in 2002).

“As a society, we’ve got to do a far better job persuading our citizens and especially our young people that alcohol use is a dead end,” says NCADD President Stacia Murphy on NCADD’s website. “Working together from all different perspectives on this problem is the only way to head off and to heal the devastating consequences of underage drinking.”

Yet, teenagers are not the only ones affected by alcohol use. Many young children in the US, although not actively drinking alcohol, are exposed to alcohol abuse and/or dependence in their families which can also play a role in their own decisions about alcohol.

Long term problems such as alcohol related liver disease, heart disease, cancer, and pancreatitis are probably the last thing on someone’s mind when they are drinking, but heavy drinkers should be warned that as they age they are very likely to run into these health problems.

Yet, alcoholism itself is hardly ever defined. An alcoholic will have craving--A strong need, or urge, to drink, a loss of control—Not being able to stop drinking once drinking has begun, physical dependence—Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety after stopping drinking, and tolerance—The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get their “buzz.”

Everyone should be aware of these signs and keep a check on themselves and others. Friends, family, and loved ones can also be dependent on or abuse alcohol. Knowing how to help them and what to look for can help to treat their condition even if you have to teach, support, and help them to achieve it.

If you suspect that you might have a drinking problem, or you know someone who abuses alcohol, please contact SAMHSA’s National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI) at 1-800-729-6686 or find a screening site located near you.

Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse

If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, you may have a problem with alcohol:

· Do you drink alone when you feel angry or sad?
· Does your drinking ever make you late for work?
· Does your drinking worry your family?
· Do you ever drink after telling yourself you won’t?
· Do you ever forget what you did while drinking?
· Do you get headaches or have a hangover after drinking?
Source: How to Cut Down on Your Drinking

What is a Standard Drink?

A standard drink contains about 14 grams (about 0.6 fluid ounces of pure alcohol. Below are some approximate drink equivalents:

· 12 oz. of beer or cooler
· 8-9 oz. of malt liquor
· 5 oz. of table wine
· 3-4 oz. of fortified wine
· 2-3 oz. of cordial, liqueur or aperitif
· 1.5 oz. of brandy or spirits.

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