Drinking alcohol too much or too often can lead to serious problems. One serious problem associated with alcohol is alcohol dependence.
What is alcohol?
All alcoholic beverages have a common ingredient. Beer, wine, and liquor all contain a sugar called ethyl alcohol.
What are the effects of alcohol?
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. It slows down body functions like heart rate and breathing. Small amounts of alcohol can affect your mood and give you a sense of well-being. Larger amounts can cause depression, loss of control, sedation, unconsciousness, and even death.
When you drink alcohol, it passes through the stomach to the small intestine. In the small intestine, it is absorbed into the bloodstream. The effects of alcohol vary from person to person. Your reaction to alcohol depends on what you have eaten, your body size, your tolerance to alcohol, and other factors.
Using alcohol has both immediate and long-term effects. The immediate effects of alcohol impair your movement and coordination. This can lead to driving accidents, falls, and other injuries. Alcohol also reduces brain function. This can cause you to lower your inhibitions, lose your judgment, become confused, or have memory loss.
Long-term effects of alcohol use include:
- Damage to organs including the liver, pancreas, brain, stomach, and heart
- Depression, anxiety, impaired thinking, and dementia
- Alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence
What is alcohol dependence?
Some people who use alcohol develop alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence. Alcohol dependence is an illness with physical, mental, and social factors. There also may be genetic risk factors. If you have a family member with alcohol dependence, you may be at a greater risk for developing problems. Alcohol dependence is a disease that can be treated. There are many options for treatment, including 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), individual counseling, and group therapy.
When to Get Help
A clear sign of alcohol dependence is continuing to drink even when it has negative consequences. These consequences may include legal problems, family problems, problems at work, and physical problems. If you answer “yes” to one or more of the following questions, it suggests that you may need help.
- Do you think you are a better or more likable person when you drink?
- Do you think about how or when you are going to drink again?
- Has your school or work performance suffered from your drinking?
- Has your health changed?
- Have family members, friends, or others expressed concern about your drinking?
- Have you ever been stopped for drunk driving or had legal problems as a result of your drinking?
- Do you stop drinking to prove that you can do it and then start again?
To better understand your alcohol use, you can use the simple 4-question CAGE test.
Answer yes or no:
- Have you ever felt you ought to Cut down on your drinking?
- Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt Guilty about your drinking?
- Have you ever started the day with a drink (an Eye-Opener to face the day)?
1 “yes” answer requires help in assessing if there is a problem.
2 “yes” answers indicate a possible problem with alcohol usage.
3 or 4 “yes” answers strongly suggest a problem with alcohol.
There are community resources for people with alcohol problems. Some are treatment-based while others are self-help programs. The telephone directory lists organizations that provide services for many types of problems. Contact your doctor, a local mental health organization, or a self-help group such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
Evaluations, treatment, and other behavioral health services are available from the UPMC Behavioral Health Network. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call toll-free 1-877-624-4100.
For information on addiction and mental health issues, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-729-6686.