Alcohol misuse is a significant problem in the United States, with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reporting that almost 25% of adults report binge drinking in the previous month and around 7% drink enough for their alcohol use to be classed as heavy. While binge or heavy drinking does not necessarily mean someone has an alcohol use disorder, around 17 million US adults have this diagnosis, though in 2012 only around 1.4 million received treatment. This isn’t an issue that only affects adults though, as more than 850,000 adolescents have problem alcohol use, but the number seeking treatment is also low, with just 75,000 accessing help in 2012.
Even if you don’t think that your kids would drink, figures from the CDC show that almost 40% of high school students drink alcohol, with more than one-fifth binge drinking and a worrying number driving under the influence of alcohol. Talking to your children about alcohol from an early age is important, as leaving it till high school might be too late, as some youngsters start drinking while they are still at middle school. However, you need to make sure that you are armed with the facts about alcohol misuse and addiction before you talk to your kids.
Alcohol Abuse Facts
Many people are unaware of what binge drinking and heavy drinking actually means, but the National Institute of Health’s Rethinking Drinking site helps to clear this up. Low risk drinking is classed as a maximum of 7 drinks over the week for women and no more than 3 on a particular day, while for men a maximum of 14 weekly is acceptable as long as at most 4 are taken at a sitting. Exceeding these levels classes you as a heavy drinker, while binge drinking is where women drink more than 4 alcoholic beverages at a time and men drink more than 5. Taking an alcohol assessment test online can help you to assess whether your own level of drinking is safe, as the example you set to your children can influence whether or not they abuse alcohol.
It is easy to drink too much when you are pouring your own drinks, so stick to 12oz for beer, 4oz for wine and 1.5oz for spirits. However, you shouldn’t assume that the drinks you buy from a bar or store come in these standard sizes, which means you should always check the quantity to avoid over-drinking.
There is a misonception that beer and wine are safer than spirits. As the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration highlights, while spirits have a higher alcohol content by volume, if you drink the same number of standard measures of beer, wine and spirits, you would get the same amount of pure alcohol and therefore experience the same effects. Whether you drink beer, wine or spirits, you are also just as likely to develop an addiction to alcohol if your drinking habits get out of control.
The short-term effects of alcohol on your body include altered co-ordination and perception, a headache, vomiting (which is especially dangerous if someone passes out), breathing difficulties and coma. Drinking too much therefore increases the risk of needing medical attention and a hospital admission.
Heavy drinking increases the risk of alcoholic liver disease, but this isn’t its only impact on health, as alcohol abuse adversely affects physical and mental wellness in many other ways. For instance, alcohol is a cancer-causing chemical, increasing the likelihood of mouth, esophageal, liver, breast and colon cancer. You are also more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke, as alcohol damages your cardiac muscle, causes an irregular heartbeat and raises blood pressure. Emotionally you are at increased risk of anxiety and depression as a heavy drinker, and heavy alcohol use can also contribute to insomnia.
Drinking too much alcohol doesn’t just harm your body directly, as it can put you at risk in other ways. For instance, after heavy drinking young people are more likely to make poor judgments about sex, increasing the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. The risk of having an accident is also higher after binge drinking.
The earlier kids start to drink alcohol, the more likely they are to become dependent on it. The Underage Drinking Enforcement Training Center points out that taking up drinking before the age of 15 makes someone four times as likely to develop alcohol dependency and more than twice as likely to develop alcohol addiction than someone who waits till they are 21. Underage drinking is also a risk factor for drug taking, so postponing drinking can also help to protect against this destructive habit.
Side Effects of Alcohol Abuse
Even if young people are aware of the danger alcohol poses to their health, they may not appreciate that their habit can have far-reaching consequences and impact on other areas of their life. It is therefore essential to address these wider issues when discussing alcohol addiction facts and the consequences of alcohol abuse. Just some of the additional problems that teens and young adults face if they drink heavily include:
- Reduced academic performance. Research suggests that the impact of alcohol abuse on grades is more pronounced among students who have previously been high achievers. This may then impact on their ability to follow their chosen career.
- Strained relationships. Drinking heavily can damage the bond youngsters have with their parents, siblings and other family members, as well as their usual friendship group, particularly if they become more isolated as a result of their habit.
- Legal issues. Heavy drinking increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior, which can lead to fights and damage to property. When under the influence of alcohol there is also an increased risk that young women are in danger of a sexual assault. Young people who get behind the wheel when drunk will also have to face the legal consequences of this.
While preventing alcohol abuse is the key, for young people who develop alcohol dependency, specialist help from addiction recovery centers can help them to overcome their habit and achieve a brighter future.