Important Facts: Alcohol Awareness Month
How do you know when you have a drinking problem? Having one drink every once in a while isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the unfortunate truth is alcohol can be more addictive and destructive for some people.
Alcohol abuse is a widespread problem in the United States, but it is manageable. This Alcohol Awareness Month, learn the causes and symptoms of alcohol abuse and how you can treat it.
How severe is AUD?
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) affects nearly 15 million Americans over the age of 12 every year, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Furthermore, the rate of alcohol-related emergency department visits across the country increased by 47% between 2006-2014, and an estimated 95,000 people die annually from alcohol-related causes.
Between 2011-2015, the NIAAA reported the most common causes of death from alcohol use were liver disease, heart disease and stroke, cirrhosis of the liver, upper aerodigestive tract cancers, liver cancer, supraventricular cardiac dysrhythmia, AUD, breast cancer, and hypertension — not to mention 10,142 alcohol-related driving fatalities, about 28% of all traffic fatalities.
When does drinking become a problem?
Drinking in moderation in social settings isn’t necessarily bad. However, the fact is some people react differently to alcohol than others. For some, drinking can very easily become more habitual, even outside social gatherings.
When alcohol consumption begins to negatively affect a person’s everyday life — their job, their family, their friendships, their health, etc. — then it becomes a more urgent issue. According to the NIAAA, answering yes to two or more of the following questions can result in an AUD diagnosis.
In the past year, have you:
- Experienced times where you drank more or longer than intended?
- More than once wanted or tried to cut back or stop drinking but couldn't?
- Spent a lot of time drinking, being sick, or being hung over?
- Experienced a craving to drink?
- Found that drinking interfered with your ability to care for your home? Family? Job? School?
- Continued to drink when it caused problems for those around you?
- Given up or cut back on activities that were once important to you to drink instead?
- Gotten yourself into multiple situations that could harm you?
- Continued drinking despite it causing depression, anxiety, or adding to another health problem?
- Had to drink more to experience the effect you wanted?
- Experienced withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating?
How do I treat AUD?
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for alcohol abuse. However, understanding what treatment options are available and recognizing what solutions may work best for you is an excellent starting point. Types of treatment may include:
- Behavioral treatments — These are aimed to adjust drinking habits through counseling services led by healthcare professionals. This type of treatment cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, marital and family counseling, and brief interventions.
- Medication — According to the NIAAA, newer types of medication offset changes in the brain caused by AUD. These medications are non-addictive and can be used alone or overlapping with other treatment options. Medications may include naltrexone, acamprosate, or disulfiram.
- Mutual-support groups — Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous provide safe, judgment-free zones for people struggling with alcohol abuse to come together and support one another.
Of course, anyone struggling with alcohol abuse should first speak to their primary care physician. Talking openly and honestly with your healthcare provider can help evaluate drinking patterns, craft a treatment plan, evaluate overall health, and determine if medication is an appropriate treatment option.