The proverbial kickoff weekend to summer also brings with it a bevy of seasonal drink specials and markdowns on your favorite beer or wine at the corner shop.
If you’re heading to the lake or cottage or just over to the neighbor’s for a barbecue, “don’t forget the alcohol” is the message we’re often told.
Between 2006 and 2010, there were, on average, 87,798 occurrences of alcohol-attributable deaths per year.
Beer, wine, and liquor are nothing new; these libations have been around for centuries. So have the issues that come with drinking too much.
But in the burgeoning markets of microbrews, niche wineries, specialty liqueurs, and craft grain alcohols, it’s considered hip to try any and all of them. Is it getting easier to hide that you might have a problem?
Drinking accounts for the 4th highest number of preventable deaths in the United States. Alcohol-related health problems such as fatty liver disease are alarmingly on the rise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2014, over 30,700 Americans died from direct overconsumption. Conditions such as cirrhosis and alcohol poisoning caused more deaths that year than heroin and prescription overdose.
A recent report by the CDC, “Contribution of Excessive Alcohol Consumption to Deaths and Years of Potential Life Lost in the United States,” found that between 2006 and 2010, there were, on average, 87,798 occurrences of alcohol-attributable deaths per year, and 2.5 million occurrences of years of potential life lost per year.
These numbers don’t even include drunk-driving deaths or alcohol-related homicides, which could push the estimate closer to 90,000 per year. In fact, the CDC reports that at least 10 percent of deaths among working-age adults are attributable to alcohol.
So why do we keep drinking so much?
“Some use intoxication as a measure of consumption without realizing they may have developed tolerance,” said Dr. Indra Cidambi, founder and medical director of the Center for Network Therapy in New Jersey. “They are actually drinking at levels that could lead to alcohol poisoning,” she told LifeZette.
Low risk is defined as no more than 4 drinks on one occasion for men (3 for women), and no more than 14 drinks in one week for men (7 for women). This is for healthy adults (over age 21) who are not at risk for becoming pregnant, Dr. Christine Savage, a professor and chair of Community Public Health Department at Johns Hopkins University told LifeZette.
Alcohol is a legal and a socially acceptable way to obtain a high.
“Social pressure to drink dangerously may be based on age, gender, financial status, race, ethnicity, and of course peer pressure — particularly among the younger generation,” said Dr. Bob Lynn, chief clinical advisor at Origins Behavioral Healthcare and a faculty member at Rutgers School of Addiction Studies.
Alcohol is also a legal and socially acceptable way to obtain a high, addiction specialists note. Society tends to view patrons falling down drunk at a bar quite differently from those getting high in an alley. Chances are you also know people who have posted photos online of themselves in an inebriated state, and people in almost every job sector routinely go out for drinks after work and think nothing of drinking until they’re drunk.
Overindulgence may also be due to ignorance.
“Apart from the negative impact on the liver, people are not generally aware of the negative impact of alcohol on their health, which could include high blood pressure, heart muscle damage, pancreatitis, stroke and certain cancers,” warned Dr. Cidambi.
One telltale sign you may be drinking too much is if you use alcohol to control emotional pain, such as anxiety or depression, said Deborah Antai-Otong, a psychiatric clinical specialist at VA North Texas Health Care System in Dallas. Consuming more over time to get the same “buzz,” strong cravings to drink, and persistent use despite social, occupational, legal, physical and psychosocial consequences are other indications you may have a problem, she told LifeZette.
Dr. Jeremy Martinez, an addiction psychiatrist and CEO of Matrix Institute on Addiction in southern California, offered this additional insight into classic symptoms.
1.) Loss of control: Drinking much more than intended, or frequent, unsuccessful attempts to quit or cut back. Also, spending lots of time drinking or recovering from hangovers.
2.) Continuing to drink despite problems: Issues may present themselves in health, school, work, or relationships. Health problems may include high blood pressure, liver problems, or vomiting blood. Relationship problems include receiving an ultimatum from a significant other, such as: “If you don’t quit drinking, I’ll leave you.”
3.) Cravings or withdrawal: Intense urges to drink or feeling anxious, irritable or shaky without alcohol.
4.) High tolerance: Needing much more alcohol to get drunk. Developing a tolerance is a sign of physical dependence on alcohol.
5.) Genetic risk: Any of the above, in addition to a first-degree alcoholic relative is a high concern for alcohol use disorder.
If you are concerned you might have a problem, an important first step is to contact your physician. You might also consider taking the online and confidential test, “Am I an Alcoholic?” provided by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) to learn more about your situation.