Many of us enjoy going out with friends for a few drinks or pairing the perfect IPA with our burger. But how do you know if you have a problem, and what effects does alcohol have on your body?
If you or a loved one suffer from dependence on alcohol, finding a means to an end can be difficult. Whether you’re unaware that you have a problem or don’t know where to turn for help, it’s important to know you aren’t alone and that there are resources available to help you.
Here’s how to tell if you or someone close to you is drinking too much and what you can do to change it.
How much drinking is too much?
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) affects an estimated 16 million Americans, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). It’s a progressive and genetically predisposed disease that can be fatal if left untreated.
“It’s important to reach out if you think you have a problem and to know there’s nothing to be ashamed of,” says physician assistant Deborah Mendelsohn, PA-C at Geisinger Marworth. Alcohol is the third leading cause of death in the United States. It’s estimated that 88,000 Americans die in alcohol-related incidents, according to the NIAAA.
There are two types of drinking behaviors that are considered problematic: heavy drinking and binge drinking. In women of all ages and men over 65, heavy drinking occurs when more than three drinks are consumed in a day, or more than seven a week. For men under age 65, heavy drinking is defined as consuming more than four drinks in one day or more than 14 in one week.
Binge drinking is defined has consuming four or more drinks in two hours for women, and five or more for men. The serving sizes of some common alcoholic drinks are:
- 12 fluid ounces of beer
- 5 fluid ounces of wine
- 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits, including whisky, gin and vodka
One to two drinks each day, such as red wine, can have positive effects on your health, according to some studies.
“While many studies have attested to the fact that some drinking can improve your health by lowering your risk for dementia, for example, any positive effects can be quickly undone when you drink in excess,” says Ms. Mendelsohn.
What effects does alcohol have on the body?
Alcohol gets absorbed into your bloodstream and moves throughout your body almost immediately, which is why its effects can be felt quickly. After having just one drink, you may even begin to feel the effects of alcohol hit you within five minutes, with the feeling peaking around 30 minutes.
“Your liver breaks down one drink per hour, and the alcohol circulates in your blood until your liver can break it down,” says Ms. Mendelsohn. This is how you feel the effects of alcohol—if you drink faster than your liver breaks it down, you’ll begin to feel drunk.
Only 10 percent of alcohol leaves the blood through urine, and as much as 8 percent is eliminated through your breath – the remaining 82 percent is processed by your liver.
In pregnant women, the same process occurs for their unborn child, only the blood-alcohol levels are amplified, and the baby cannot break alcohol down like its mother can. Repeated use of alcohol during pregnancy can cause life-long effects on the child, such as fetal alcohol syndrome.
The effects of excessive alcohol consumption can range from a strong hangover to alcohol poisoning. More serious side effects of long-term use—regularly drinking more than your age/gender’s recommended amount—include:
- alcohol-related liver disease
- brain damage
- heart failure
- high blood pressure
- increases chances of certain cancers
- injury or death
- miscarriage or stillbirths
When is it time to find help?
“You may think you have your drinking under control, but it’s important to remember that many who struggle with alcohol abuse don’t think they have a problem,” says Ms. Mendelsohn.
If you find yourself wondering whether you have a drinking problem, ask yourself these questions:
- Have you experienced withdrawal symptoms when alcohol began to wear off?
- Do you often think of drinking and experience strong cravings and the need for a drink?
- Have you tried to cut back on drinking but were unable to?
- Do you continue to drink even though it has negative effects on your health?
- Has drinking interfered with your family and social life?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, it may be time to reach out to someone for help. You can search for local Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and you may also benefit from inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation settings. All these options provide you with the resources and support you need to quit drinking.
Geisinger Marworth not only offers a safe, secure and supportive environment to break the cycle of addiction, but also the resources to maintain life-long sobriety.
Deborah Mendelsohn, PA-C is a physician assistant at Geisinger Marworth. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addition to alcohol or drugs, we can help. Please visit Geisinger Marworth or call 800-442-7722.