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The Hidden Truth About Alcohol Abuse

The Hidden Truth About Alcohol Abuse

By    |   Friday, 04 January 2019 10:03 AM

While the opioid epidemic in the U.S. has drawn massive the media attention, the rising danger and repercussions of alcohol abuse needs as much scrutiny.

Heavy drinking (defined as more than 3 drinks a day for men and 2 for women), binge drinking and alcoholism, which is also called alcohol use disorder (AUD) or the inability to stop drinking when started, can wreak havoc with your health, your relationships, and your life.

According to Dr. Marcelo Campos of Harvard Medical School, alcohol associated deaths accounted for 88,000 deaths annually during the years 2006 to 2010. That is almost 10% of all U.S. death annually during that time period. Unfortunately, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), only one in six U.S. adults has ever been asked by a health care professional about their drinking behavior.

Campos says that like opioid addiction, medication-assisted therapy and counseling can significantly reduce alcohol use compared to cutting back on your own. In the U.S. adult population 6.6% reported heavy alcohol use, and one in four people reported at least one episode of binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks daily for women and five or more drinks for men.

AUD and other substance abuse problems are considered to be diseases like any other, but Campos points out there is a stigma attached because people regard sufferers as “moral failures.”

“The cause of AUD is a complex interaction between genes and environment, with a strong association with other health problems,” he says. In one study, 77% of individuals with AUD also suffered from medical problems such as cancer, liver disease, pancreatitis of other psychiatric disease such a depression, anxiety, bipolar disease or schizophrenia.

“A history of trauma, physical, verbal and sexual abuse is also highly prevalent in this population,” he says. “Even though genetics play an important role, exposure to specific life events and situations can significantly increase one’s vulnerability to seek comfort and reward using alcohol beverages.”

Campos points out that he rarely sees a patient who is willing to come forth and talk about his or her drinking behavior.

“The conversation is usually triggered by friends and family members who urge their loved ones to seek help and many do not see their alcohol as a problem,” he explains.

If you think you may have a problem with alcohol, he suggests asking yourself: “How many times in the past year have I had five (for men) or four (for women) or more drinks a day?” A response equal to, or greater than “once” identifies, on the average, eight out of 10 people with AUD. A positive answer should trigger a more thorough discussion with your health care professional.

Campos says there are several medications that can help people deal with alcohol cravings and reduce drinking. Naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram are among the current FDA-approved drugs to treat the disease. Individual and group therapy may also help reduce binge drinking and increase abstinence.

“For some people, drinking at night or on the weekend may feel like the only source of relaxation and comfort,” adds Campos. “It is not uncommon for people who suffer from anxiety and depression to drink to alleviate their feelings and emotions.”

He acknowledges that it’s hard to keep motivation going when dealing with alcoholism and relapses are common. Successfully overcoming alcohol dependence often depends on stability at work, adequate housing, hope for the future, support from family, friends and the health care system.

“Don’t be afraid to seek professional help if alcohol defines who you are and is affecting your life and relationships,” the doctor advises. “We now have several approaches that may lead to healing and recovery. A simple conversation with your doctor about whether or not you have a problem with alcohol use could be the very first step toward a healthier and more fulfilling life.”

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While the opioid epidemic in the U.S. has drawn massive the media attention, the rising danger and repercussions of alcohol abuse needs as much scrutiny.
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Friday, 04 January 2019 10:03 AM
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