According to the Center for Disease Control, 79,000 deaths per year are attributed to excessive alcohol use. Alcoholism is the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the nation, and up to 40 percent of all hospital beds in the United States (except for those being used by maternity and intensive care patients) are being used to treat health conditions that are related to alcohol consumption.
Excessive alcohol use can lead to numerous health problems such as dementia, stroke, cardiovascular problems, psychiatric problems such as depression or anxiety, social problems such as unemployment and family problems, increased risk of cancers, liver diseases and gastrointestinal problems. Common signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse include: neglecting responsibilities at home, work or school; using alcohol in dangerous situations; experiencing legal problems due to drinking, for instance, getting arrested for drinking and driving; continued drinking during relationship problems with friends, family or a spouse; drinking to de-stress, for example, getting drunk after a stressful day.
What is alcohol? Alcohol that is typically consumed is ethyl alcohol and is produced by a fermentation of yeast, sugars and starches. It is a central nervous system depressant drug found in beer, wine and liquor. Alcohol, once consumed, is rapidly absorbed by the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream and then circulated to every organ in the body, including the brain. Once the alcohol is absorbed in the bloodstream, 5 percent is eliminated through the kidneys in urine, the lungs exhale 5 percent, and the liver breaks down the remaining 90 percent.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women tend to absorb more alcohol when they drink, and take longer to break it down and remove it from their bodies compared to their male counterparts. Even when men and women drink the same amount of alcohol, women tend to have higher levels of alcohol in their blood than men, and the immediate effects of impairment occur quicker and last longer. Alcohol is metabolized by the liver at the average rate of one standard drink per hour. A standard alcoholic drink contains 14 grams of pure alcohol (0.6 ounces) such as: 12 ounces of beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5-ounce shot of hard liquor.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recommend that if you choose to drink alcohol, do not exceed one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men. The Dietary Guidelines also recommends the following people not consume alcohol: children and teenagers younger than 21, individuals who can’t limit their drinking, women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant, individuals who plan to operate a car or machinery, people taking prescription or over-the-counter medications that might interact with alcohol and people with certain medical conditions.
Drinking too much alcohol is dangerous at any age. We can all do our part to prevent alcohol abuse in our community. Make a difference by spreading the word about strategies for preventing alcohol abuse and encourage people to seek support if necessary.
Molly Yatso Butz is the community health and wellness director for the Oshkosh Community YMCA.