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GUIDE – How To Quit Drinking Alcohol

Have you’ve struggled with your drinking? Have you ever questioned your relationship with alcohol? Are you wondering if you should quit, or do you have to quit? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then you know one thing for sure: it’s scary as hell, and it can be really hard.

The scariest, hardest part isn’t quitting. It isn’t even what happens on the other side of quitting that’s hardest to overcome. The biggest roadblock between anyone and sobriety is the decision to attempt it in the first place.

YOU’RE AFRAID YOU MIGHT HAVE A PROBLEM, BUT YOU’RE NOT REALLY SURE

We tend to think of drinking habits in black and white terms, focusing on whether or not we are alcoholics or normal drinkers. Meanwhile, a problem may be developing amidst all that focus.

If you find that you’re caught in this “do I or don’t I” thought cycle – comparing your drinking to your friends, taking online assessments, or otherwise trying to qualify where you fall on the range of problem drinking – give these two things a try:

  1. Quit asking yourself if you have a problem or comparing yourself to others. Rather, ask yourself if you are living to your full potential, and if alcohol is standing in the way of that. Literally EVERY TIME you start to go down the path of comparison or analysis, stop and ask yourself if alcohol is getting in the way. More so, does it prevent the life you want for yourself? If this answer is yes, that’s all you need to know. Step one is over. You’ve admitted you have a problem. It then becomes a choice of what you want out of life and what is standing in the way.
  2. Do some future-self meditation. I know this sounds a bit out there, but it works. A decade from now, you’ll have the answers to today’s questions. The meditation itself will do a number of positive things, but most importantly, it will help create a vision of what direction you want your life to go in. Become who you want to become. Chances are that person isn’t stumbling out of bars or drinking a bottle of wine in the evenings by themselves 10 years from now, even if that’s true today.

WHY STOP DRINKING?

The long-term effects of bad habits are rarely enough to motivate people to quit.  Drinking is no exception. The near-term benefits of giving up alcohol are much more useful and interesting anyway. Here are the changes I experienced:

Productive socializing. Talking to strangers is a great way to build character, but the benefits are greatly reduced when you’re drunk. The alcohol represses much of the social anxiety, yes, but this inhibits lasting change. It might seem terrifying to meet new people without being drunk, but the long-term effects of alcohol are much more terrifying.

Reclaim lost time. Let’s say you have a few drinks around the house, three times a week, and that light touch of drunkenness costs you three hours of productive thinking each time. Within a year, you’ll have shaved about one full month off your life. That’s a lot of lost time that could have been put towards reading a book, writing a speech, playing a sport, or even starting a business. And this doesn’t even count the time lost waiting for your brain to recuperate the morning after a night on the town.

Get rich quickly. You don’t have to party that hard to spend $100-$150/week or more on alcohol and related expenses. If you quit drinking today, you could reasonably expect to convert that choice into a bankroll for backpacking around the world in about six months. Telling yourself it only costs a handful of dollars to get drunk is like telling yourself you’re willing to pay $400-600 a month for health problems.

Become an early riser. I’m currently readjusting my sleep schedule to wake up at 5:30 AM, seven days a week. Alcohol, and the lifestyle that often accompanies it, work against this process. Alcohol makes me feel tired when I want to feel energetic and awake. Ironically, it also increases wakefulness during sleep, even though it’s a depressant.

You can probably think of other instantly gratifying benefits to life beyond the bottle. The important thing is to actually have a reason that is important enough to you. One must be willing to quit in order to achieve sobriety.

MAKE SOBRIETY PRIORITY NUMBER ONE

Giving up alcohol is one of the easiest and hardest changes you can make in your life.

It’s easy once you’ve established the right rules, configured your environment to support you, and set up useful boundaries of pain and pleasure to help direct you towards your goal. The hard parts are the social implications and fighting off the One Man Army that is your ego, with its barrage of self-limiting beliefs and drink requests.

Giving up alcohol must be made priority number one in your life. A partial commitment is a commitment to failure. Even if you already don’t drink that often, it will be tempting to break your own rules when your friends call you up and invite you out. You’ve got to be willing to prioritize this decision in every situation where it’s relevant, even when that means Just Saying No to pub night.

IT’S NOT A BIG DEAL, RIGHT?

Ever notice how some people act as though the end of their relationship is the end of the world? It’s as if there’s no point in living if they can’t be with that person any longer. Yet other people come along and date that person who left them, eventually break up with them, and see it as hardly more than a blip on the radar.

You may feel that it’s pretty easy to give up drinking. Or you may feel that it’s an addiction with a stranglehold on your life. Either way, there is no inherent magnitude to this task. It’s as big or as small as you make it. Turn it into a blip, and let it fade off your radar. The most effective way forward is to not only make quitting drinking a top priority, but to think, talk, and act like it can be done.

COMMIT TO 30 DAYS DRY

If you’ve never done it before, it can be hard to think of giving up drinking forever. It’s discouraging to commit to permanent change, only to back out a few days or weeks into it. Most people will face social friction and lifestyle changes for which they’re unprepared. Ninety percent of alcoholics relapse. Help lower that number, and commit to a thirty-day regimen of no alcohol consumption. Here’s two ways you can start:

Fire Your Drinking Buddies

Alcohol may be so tightly integrated into your social life that it seems almost impossible to go an entire weekend without drinking. If the only thing you have in common with your friends is that you like the same lagers, you might want to consider finding new friends. If the relationship is deeper than that, but alcohol is always involved, you need a break… perhaps a long one.

I’ve let go of people in my social circle before and I know it’s not easy — but that doesn’t make it unnecessary. This might be the hardest thing you do in choosing a life without alcohol. The key is to remember that friends are an abundant resource. Having a strong social circle is purely a function of the effort you invest into it. That includes choosing to associate only with people who are aligned with your purpose, while avoiding the energy vampires.

This is another benefit of a 30-day commitment. Instead of permanently downsizing your social life, you can choose to be busy only for the next few weeks. Observe how it affects you when you stop spending time with your beer buddies. Join a local user group for something you’re interested in to bring yourself into contact with people with whom you share more than just a bar tab.

Advertise Your Decision

I told most of my friends about what I was doing. Not only does this add accountability to your goal, it also drops the hint that if your friends are planning on going out and getting wasted, you’re probably not interested. Plus, if someone offers you a drink and you look at them and say, “I can’t. I’m a full blown alcoholic,” they probably won’t ask you again.

ISN’T IT DANGEROUS FOR ALCOHOLICS TO QUIT DRINKING?

When someone makes the decision to stop drinking, the first 72 hours are critical, as they’re in the most painful part of the recovery process. As your body flushes all the alcohol from your system, you’ll experience the unpleasant pangs of acute withdrawal. Alcoholics will experience especially brutal recoveries, and professional help is recommended for them. Regardless, the benefits of quitting drinking will soon make themselves known.

Even though it may not feel like it, the acute withdrawal stage of the recovery timeline can be the beginning of something great. The onset of the first symptoms is evidence that your body is beginning to shift into healing gear. If alcohol is used over the long term, it can actually affect the brain’s electrical potential.

The onset of withdrawal symptoms can begin as soon as six hours after your last drink. You may experience:

  • Elevated temperature
  • Increased blood pressure, breathing rate and pulse
  • Excessive sweating
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia

In extreme cases, people may even have seizures leading to loss of consciousness. The body is working overtime to cleanse itself of alcohol, and the symptoms it creates can be so uncomfortable that people immediately relapse. This is why it is so important for someone attempting to overcome alcoholism to go through the withdrawal process under medical supervision

If done correctly, detox is the first meaningful step in the recovery process. At the same time, it’s also the stumbling block that can completely derail any attempts at long-term sobriety. This is why it’s important to enlist the professional services of a detox program that can ensure you’re receiving the nutrients, medication and support you need to make it through the first stages after quitting drinking.

POST-ACUTE WITHDRAWAL:  2+ WEEKS AFTER QUITTING

While the most infamous phase of recovery is the initial withdrawal stage, full detoxification can take up to two weeks in some cases. As your body is getting rid of the last remnants of alcohol, psychological symptoms can advance quickly — but so can the positive effects.

As most would expect, mixed in with the highs are periods of emotional lows. These effects aren’t as physically urgent as the ones experienced in the first stages of withdrawal, but they can take a big toll on your newly sober psyche. They may include:

  • Anxiety & depression
  • Decreased energy & metabolism
  • Feelings of aggression or hostility
  • Declined sexual interest or function
  • Sleep disruption & nightmares

These symptoms develop after the acute withdrawal period, and can last for a couple of weeks all the way up to a year depending on the severity of prior alcoholism. The name for this phenomenon is “protracted/post-acute withdrawal symptoms,” or PAWS.

The worst part of these symptoms is the formidable cravings for alcohol. Even after removing all traces of alcohol from your system, the brain will still want it to help return to the balance of chemicals it has gotten used to — but knowing the source of these symptoms is key to dealing with cravings appropriately.

In this time period, it’s crucial for people in recovery to develop and enforce new and healthy coping habits without turning back to the bottle. In effective treatment programs, you can learn how to augment the positive effects of quitting drinking with therapy, group work, and one-on-one attention from medical and clinical professionals. Building effective coping skills and getting to the root of addiction is paramount at this juncture in the quitting alcohol recovery timeline.

You might spend several days in detox. Treatment in rehab can last a few days or a few months. You’ll be in a controlled environment, so if you have any cravings for alcohol, you won’t have access to it. At treatment, you’ll be engrossed in recovery.

At this point, you should have learned some tools and coping mechanisms to keep you away from a drink.

Regardless, you should continue to see a therapist or attend some type of group meeting, such as AA. It’s always helpful to have a support system of counselors and people who understand what you’re going through. This will contribute to a happy and healthy recovery. Recovery is a lifelong process, and the post treatment maintenance is just as important as the initial treatment process.

 

A Dry January Goes a Long Way

We drink a lot during the holidays. This is especially true at the end of the year, starting with the day before Thanksgiving and on through to New Year’s Day. The day before Thanksgiving is actually the biggest drinking night of the year in the US, and has come to be called ‘Blackout Wednesday.’ Christmas brings its own rush of alcohol, and we all know how drunk Americans get on December 31st. Some may find this amusing, but really it’s not funny at all.

Holiday drinking creates an extremely dangerous period of time.

During these short five weeks, drunk-driving violations increase by 33% across the country. More than 20 people a day are injured or killed from alcohol-related causes, triple the average rate. New Year’s Eve is the most dangerous drinking day. Drunk-driving violations increase by 155% and injury/death rates nearly quadruple. As bad as it may sound, nothing’s going to prevent this from happening. Americans are going to drink more than average during the holiday season. Many of us drink problematically during this time.

So why not take a break?

In the information age, ideas spread very quickly. Back in 2006, author John Ore began writing about something he was doing at home: taking January off from drinking. His then-girlfriend and future wife first suggested it to him then, and it’s become a tradition. Ore wrote about it more and more, and the tradition came to be known as “Drynuary.” Within a couple of years, the idea went viral and people were doing it all over, using social media to brag about it.

In 2010, a non-profit organization called Moderation Management (MM) linked up with Ore to promote a non-drinking January. According to their mission statement, MM provides “…peer-run non-coercive support groups for anyone who would like to reduce their alcohol consumption.” Together, MM and Ore started a website dedicated to the practice.

Participating in the dry January is now officially known as “Dryuary,” losing the ‘n’ due to web address availability. From the website: “The goal of Dryuary is to offer a supportive environment for taking a month-long break from alcohol. It’s an invitation to give your body a break for 1/12th of the year from a diet that includes alcohol. Dryuary is not therapy; it is simply an opportunity to reset your relationship with drinking by taking a break at the beginning of the year.”

There are inspirational quotes and songs for each day, along with blogs and forums to share your Dryuary experiences. You can access Dryuary through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube. Although it’s over for this year, you can sign up to participate in 2018.

While obviously healthy and positive, it’s easy to see how someone could dismiss Dryuary at first glance. It’s just a silly thing to brag about on social media, right? Very, very wrong. Yes, it’s on social media, but Dryuary has become so popular, and is so obviously healthy, that even the American Psychological Association (APA) officially recognizes the health benefits. Let’s talk about what they are.

Major Health Benefits to Dryuary

US News published an article this January about four “surprising things that happen to your body” when you participate in Dryuary. In short, you drink less, you sleep better, you eat less, and you may even lower your risk of diabetes. We want to expand on these benefits and show exactly how just one 31-day period of abstinence can go such a long way. Here are four major health benefits to participating in Dryuary:

1. You’ll Drink Less

People who participate in the dry January actually drink less for at least six months in the future. Plus they “have greater confidence in their ability to say no to alcohol…,” as written in the US News article. Science has backed this up, officially recognizing the health benefits of Dryuary.

A study published last year in Health Psychology, backed by the APA, “revealed that participation in Dry January was related to reductions in alcohol consumption and increases in DRSE among all respondents at 6-month follow-up, regardless of success, but indicated that these changes were more likely among people who successfully completed the challenge.”

DRSE stands for “drink refusal self-efficacy,” and is basically a measurement of the strength to say no to a drink. How good are you at not drinking when either offered one or surrounded by the opportunity to do so? DRSE numerically measures this.

First of all, it’s amazing that drinking rates went down even for those who did not finish the month out. Secondly, it’s incredible that one month of sobriety reduces drinking for half of a year! It’s important to note that ‘rebound effects,’ or the tendency to drink more after a dry period to ‘make up for lost time,’ do not occur after Dryuary. According to the study: “The findings suggest that participation in abstinence challenges such as Dry January… is unlikely to result in undesirable ‘rebound effects’: very few people reported increased alcohol consumption following a period of voluntary abstinence.”

2. You’ll Sleep Better

As reported by Time, a study performed recently at the University of Melbourne showed how even one drink of alcohol near bedtime can result in lower quality sleep. In the study, twenty-four people between the ages of 18 and 21 spent about a week at the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences Sleep Laboratory.

One night they were each given a nightcap of vodka and orange juice, and the next night they were given a placebo: orange juice with a straw dipped in vodka. Before lying down for the night, each participant was hooked up to an electroencephalogram, or EEG. This machine measures brain activity with high accuracy.

According to Time: “Not surprisingly, on the nights they drank alcohol, people showed more slow wave sleep patterns, and more so-called delta activity…,” which occurs during deep sleep. However, alpha activity was also increased when they drank, which only occurs when the brain is awake.

The article continues: “Having both delta and alpha activity together therefore leads to disrupted sleep, since the alpha functions tend to offset any restorative efforts the brain neurons are trying to squeeze in.

So while it may seem that a drink or two before bed helps you sleep, it does not. That nightcap helps you fall asleep, but lowers the quality of the actual sleep you get. Therefore, a month of no drinking after that holiday period of bad sleep will ensure that you sleep better. More sleep means a better mood and better concentration, which overall means better performance. Thanks, Dryuary.

3. You’ll Eat Less

How much food do you eat on Thanksgiving? Are there leftovers that you nibble on for the rest of the month? When all the Christmas candy goes on sale in early December, do you buy any? How about on Christmas itself – do you eat a nice, big meal? Are there snacks out for your alcohol-fueled New Year’s Eve party? If you’re a fan of the NFL, are you eating “football food” during the playoffs in January? Are you drinking throughout all of these occasions?

Let’s face it. Holiday season is all about the eating… and drinking alcohol. Turn on the sobriety for a month starting on New Year’s and you’re guaranteed to eat less during January, which could lead to better eating habits.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition performed a five-year long study of 7,608 men, who at the end “completed a postal questionnaire on changes in alcohol intake and body weight.” The results were not so great. Body mass index, or BMI, “increased significantly from the light-moderate to the very heavy alcohol intake group…,” wrote the researchers. “Similar patterns were seen for all types and combinations of alcohol.”

The conclusion of the study was literally summed up into one sentence: “Heavy alcohol intake contributes directly to weight gain and obesity, irrespective of the type of alcohol consumed.” The bottom line is that alcohol has a lot of calories, especially beer and wine. Liquor might not have a huge calorie count, but it is often mixed with sugary drinks.

On top of alcohol causing weight gain, drinking makes you eat more in general, and usually not health food. An unnamed study, referenced in the US News article linked above, found that on drinking days, men consume 433 calories more than they would on non-drinking days. Women consume 300 more calories.

Participate in Dryuary and lose that New Year’s resolution weight!

4. Possible Lower Risk of Diabetes

Another unnamed study was referenced in the US News article, this time regarding alcohol use and liver health/glucose levels. The study involved ten regular drinkers staying sober for a five-week period. Six of the participants went the whole time without drinking. Four participants drank.

For those who succeeded, both liver health and blood glucose levels improved. Also, liver fat, (which is a precursor to fatty liver disease, which is a precursor to cancer), fell by 15% or more after five weeks. Blood glucose levels fell by 16% on average. No such improvements were noted for any of the four who drank.

This particular study is a pilot study, meaning it is in the beginning stages. As said in the US News article, “This pilot study gives no indication of how long the improvements persist, but it does lay the groundwork for larger studies.”

In Conclusion

These four benefits of not drinking for a month are backed with science, not just opinions. There are countless more benefits. For example:

  • You will save a bunch of money.
  • You will be hangover-free for a month.
  • If when you drink, you use nicotine more, that will stop.
  • You will be alert and conscious if and when the time comes.
  • You have zero chance of getting alcohol poisoning.

Many more benefits exist; all you have to do is go sober for a month and see for yourself. It doesn’t have to be January. It can be any month. It can be any thirty-day period of time. Regardless of when you choose to do it, one month of no drinking will make you drink less alcohol in the future. It will give you better sleep. It will make you eat less, and it more than likely reduces your risk of not just diabetes, but liver problems as well.

For those who are not alcoholics and only enjoy responsibly, consider this: Alcohol isn’t going anywhere. Resisting for a month won’t make it disappear forever. Just try going for a month and see how you feel.

We bet you’ll feel like a million bucks.

Alcoholism, Genetics and Parenting

Parenting is one of the toughest jobs in the world, and teaching children about drugs and alcohol isn’t always easy. But it is important and can make a difference in the lives of your children.

How to Talk To Your Children About Drugs and Alcohol

The Center for Child Welfare asserts that admitting mistakes they’ve made is a powerful way for parents to role model for their children. In an age-appropriate way, you can tell your children about a time when drinking too much alcohol or even using too much of a tobacco product made you sick and resulted in poor decision-making. Likewise, it’s important to apologize for mistakes even when they’re not related to substance abuse. Everyone makes mistakes; by being honest, apologizing and acting to correct your course you show your children how to do the same.talking-to-children-about-drugs-and-alcohol

The University of Rochester Medical Center suggests that you can begin very basic, age-appropriate conversations about drugs and alcohol with children as young as five years old. At this point, a conversation may consist of saying “The people in that commercial are acting silly when they drink beer, but they have to be careful because drinking too much can be very dangerous. Children shouldn’t drink alcohol because it’s not safe.” Discussion prompts such as this one will pave the way for questions and answer sessions that can help you build a foundation of safety and prevention that can be built upon as your children grow older.

The links between alcoholism, genetics and family history are not easy to understand. What we know for sure, though, is that there is a connection.

Is Alcoholism Genetic?

This does not mean that if you had an alcoholic parent, or if both of your parents suffered from alcoholism, that you are destined to become one as well. It does mean that you may be more predisposed to drink and abuse alcohol than others. If you have a family history of alcoholism, learn more about what it means for you and your life.

Understanding Risk

While alcoholism is influenced by genetic factors, these elements allow for, at most, an increased risk of developing alcoholism, and are by no means deterministic regarding the future of any particular individual. In addition to the contribution of genetics, family members, close friends, teachers, employers, the media, and other societal influences all contribute to shape a person’s relationship with alcohol and other drugs of abuse. Furthermore, severe alcoholics can and do achieve sobriety and lasting recovery through alcohol addiction treatment, showing that each anyone can make the decision to change, regardless of any risk factors, genetic or otherwise.

Among those abusing alcohol, people who are genetically predisposed to alcoholism have a higher risk of becoming addicted. Although people can inherit alcoholic tendencies, the development of an alcohol use disorder is also dependent on social factors. Some who have inherited genes making them susceptible to alcoholism are responsible drinkers or never take a drink in their life.

Our hereditary behaviors interact with our environment to form the basis of our decisions. Some people are more sensitive to stress, making it harder to cope with an unhealthy relationship or a fast-paced job. Some people experience a traumatizing event and turn to alcohol to self-medicate.

However, even those with a high genetic risk to substance abuse must first be driven by a nonhereditary factor to do it. The catalyst that leads to alcohol abuse is usually an environmental factor, such as work-related stress.

Some environmental factors that are particularly risky for those who are genetically inclined include:

  • Drug accessibility
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Peer pressure
  • Witnessing violence

Alcohol Causes 7 Types of Cancer

Bob and his work buddies head to Applebee’s on lunch. Everyone gets a beer. Bob drinks about half of it, finishes his food and heads back to the office. Later that evening, he has two Bud Lights while watching the big game. This is Bob’s average weekday, and over weekends, he might have a few glasses of wine.

Guess what? Bob is now at risk for at least seven types of cancer.

As if there weren’t enough health risks associated with alcohol use, a recent study has found ten more. In July, the Society for the Study of Addiction (SSA) found that alcohol consumption leads to seven different types of cancer, and possibly to three more. Every year in America alone there are 88,000 alcohol-caused deaths. The SSA study’s findings will sadly increase this already outrageous death toll from alcohol consumption.

Nearly 6% of worldwide cancer is attributable to alcohol, according to the study. Those at highest risk are those who abuse alcohol, and the risk increases with consumption. Regardless, this is big news, showing that drinkers like Bob are at much more health risk than previously thought.  Let’s discuss which cancers alcohol causes, how alcohol causes them, how to reduce your risk level, and why this is causing a stir among health experts.

The 7 (or Ten) Cancers Alcohol Causes

1. Liver Cancer

It’s well known that alcohol use causes liver damage. However, it may be lesser known that alcohol use can lead to liver cancer. The breakdown of alcohol inside of the liver causes damage to the liver cells. Essentially, inside the liver, broken-down alcohol is used as fuel for the body, as opposed to fat like usual. This leads to fatty liver disease. Continued alcohol use with fatty liver disease leads to alcoholic hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver. The last step is cirrhosis, when liver cells are replaced by scar tissue and blood flow slows down. This can lead to cancer and even death.

Drinking like Bob, (2.5 beers or 18 oz. of wine a day), results in a 1.5 times greater risk for liver cancer versus drinking less or not at all. As always, the more you drink, the more you put yourself at risk.

2. Colon Cancer

Alcohol consumption, whether excessive or long-term or both, causes what are known as adenomas in the colon. These are tiny and benign tumors, and are harmless at this stage. However, adenomas can develop into polyps, which are larger and can be pre-cancerous.

A 2001 study published by the British Medical Journal showed that “alcoholism was a risk factor for the development of high risk adenomas or colorectal cancer.” The authors of the study even went so far as to recommend that all alcoholics be screened for such health issues. Drinking like Bob results in a 1.5 times greater risk for colon cancer.

3. Rectal Cancer

This is basically the same as colon cancer. Instead of forming on the colonic walls, the cancer develops from benign growths in the rectum. An article published in 2011 in the Oxford Journals concluded that any more than one drink a day puts one at risk for rectal cancer. “Our results have shown that alcohol consumption was associated with an increase in risk for colorectal cancer, for intakes of >1 drink/day. Thus, public health recommendations for colorectal cancer prevention should consider limiting intake of alcoholic beverages,” wrote the authors.

Drinking like Bob results in a 1.21 times greater risk for rectal cancer, but having four or more drinks a day results in a 1.52 times greater risk. Only by consuming one or less alcoholic beverage daily can one be risk-free.

4. Breast Cancer

It’s not exactly common knowledge that alcohol use can lead to breast cancer. Yet the risks here are rather high. According to non-profit website Breastcancer.org, “Research consistently shows that drinking alcohol beverages… can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones associated with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer.” It only three drinks a week for a woman to have a 15% higher risk. If that woman is fifteen years old or younger, her risk is tripled.

Men who drink are also at risk. Cancer.org, a similar non-profit devoted to all types of cancer, states that men “have a higher rate of benign male breast growth (gynecomastia) and also have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.” This happens by lowering the amount of androgens, or male hormones, in the body.

Drinking like Bob can result in a risk increase anywhere from 15-45% for women, and results in a 1.5 times greater risk for men.

5. Oropharyngeal Cancer

oropharyngeal cancer

As pictured above, the oropharynx is the middle of the throat. The back of the tongue, the tonsils, and the walls of the throat are part of it. Oropharyngeal cancer occurs when malignant cells form in the tissues of the oropharynx. Alcohol consumption greatly increases the risk of this type of cancer, and the ratio of quantity to risk is frightening. Consider this…

A study published by the National Library of Medicine in 2011 showed that drinking like Bob results in a 1.75 times greater risk for oropharyngeal cancer. However, if you drink four or more a day, it results in a risk anywhere from 3.2 to 9.2 times greater. Plus, in order to become risk-free after having been at risk, one must go 10-15 years without any drinks, according to the study. On top of it all, the risk of oropharyngeal cancer from alcohol is the same for cigarette smokers as for non-smokers.

“The evidence for the human carcinogenic effects of alcohol drinking on the risk of cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx has been considered sufficient,” wrote the authors.

6. Laryngeal Cancer

The two main risk factors for developing cancer of the larynx, otherwise known as the voice box? Tobacco and alcohol. Known as one of the more unpleasant cancers, as if any were pleasant, laryngeal cancer occurs when malignant cells form in the tissues of the larynx. This is located between your throat and esophagus. (See above picture for more detail.)

According to Oral Oncology, “Epidemiological studies consistently showed that alcohol drinking increases the risk of laryngeal cancer. This risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed…” Furthermore, concurrent tobacco use dramatically increases the risk. “Alcohol drinking may influence laryngeal cancer risk particularly through its direct contact or solvent action, perhaps by enhancing the effects of tobacco or other environmental carcinogens.”

Drinking like Bob increases the risk of laryngeal cancer by four to seven times.

7. Esophageal Cancer

Just as with laryngeal cancer, the two main risk factors here are tobacco and alcohol. It’s common sense, really. Any cancer associated with the mouth/throat probably derives from something carcinogenic being introduced regularly to that area of the body. If that something is alcohol, you increase your risk of developing cancer of the esophagus, the tube that leads to your stomach, (AKA the food pipe), by up to 7.65 times in heavy drinkers.

As stated in a 2008 National Library of Medicine study, “Alcohol was a potent risk factor with a clear dose-response relationship, particularly for esophageal squamous-cell cancer.”

Drinking like Bob results in a 4-7 times greater risk for esophageal cancer.

8. The Other Three Cancers

Remember the Society for the Study of Addiction study? According to Jennie Connor, one of its authors, alcohol may also lead to cancers of the skin, the prostate, and the pancreas. Not enough evidence was found to affirm this in writing, but Connor believes alcohol does indeed cause ten different forms of cancer. So how exactly does alcohol do this?

Acetaldehyde

A ‘carcinogen’ is anything capable of causing cancer in living things. Alcohol is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, meaning it causes cancer in human beings. When alcohol is broken down by the body, it is turned into acetaldehyde. “Most of the ethanol in the body is broken down in the liver by an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase, which transforms ethanol into a toxic compound called acetaldehyde, a known carcinogen,” according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Regarding cancers of the liver, colon, rectum, breast, skin, prostate, and pancreas, it’s safe to say acetaldehyde is the main culprit. Regarding the mouth and/or throat cancers, the answer is fairly obvious. Alcoholic beverages pass through these regions with every sip, and the breakdown process begins in the mouth. Science does not have every single detail figured out, but on average, drinking ANY amount of alcohol increases risk of cancer anywhere from 10 to 15 percent.

How to Avoid Risk

Frankly, there is no other way to avoid being at risk for cancer than to simply not drink. According to Jennie Connor, the so-called ‘benefits’ of light to moderate drinking are “…irrelevant in comparison to the increase in risk of a range of cancers.” Connor goes on to say that there is literally no safe level of drinking when it comes to risk of cancer.

The SSA researchers note in their conclusion that many studies have proven alcohol to have cardiovascular benefits, especially red wine. However, according to the authors, “…a high level of skepticism regarding these findings is now warranted.” That being said, drinking lightly, which is one drink or less per day, places you at minimal risk for developing any of these ten cancers. Also, simply knowing these risks exist can help. The problem is we don’t know they exist.

As said by Jana Witt of Cancer Research UK, “We know that nine in 10 people aren’t aware of the link between alcohol and cancer, and this review [the SSA study] is a stark reminder that there’s strong evidence linking the two.” This means millions of people are at risk. Bob is at risk. Are you? Perhaps you are not, since last year, for the first time in fifteen years, the world drank less than usual.

Drinking Rates are Down?

According to a Newser article published this year, “…global alcohol consumption fell by 0.7% in 2015. It’s the first time people are drinking less alcohol since Euromonitor started tracking that stat in 2001—and likely even before that.” Although experts believe the decrease is due to a slumping economy, facts are facts. Still, the authors of the SSA study estimated that half a million Americans (and therefore many more worldwide) may have cancer as a result of alcohol consumption.

You Can Still Have a Beer

All of this doesn’t mean you can’t have a few drinks responsibly now and again. There is a thick line between alcohol abuse and enjoying alcohol maturely. What all of this does mean is to be more careful and aware of your drinking habits, especially if you drink like our friend Bob or more often. Let’s be honest. Chances are most people will not hear about the results of this study. Chances are nine out of ten people will remain in the dark about this eye-opening information.

Some are trying to raise awareness. According to Newser, “Health experts are calling for warning labels on booze, like those on tobacco products…” Currently there are warning labels on most alcoholic beverage containers, but they are in tiny print and off to the side. The push is for them to be clearer and perhaps now to include the fact that alcohol consumption can be carcinogenic.

If you are a drinker, consume alcohol safely. Don’t let alcohol consume you. If you or someone you love is caught in an alcohol addiction, please, seek help immediately.

Harlem Church Offers Free Mental Healthcare

Mental illness has no prejudice. Whatever your race, religion, background or creed, we’re all equally susceptible to mental problems. When it comes to seeking help for such problems, some people are more reluctant than others. Perhaps a fear of being labelled as crazy holds some back.

According to Psychology Today, many members of the African-American community “continue to hold stigmatizing beliefs about mental illness.” Furthermore, a 2008 study showed that “over a third [of African-Americans] felt that mild depression or anxiety would be considered ‘crazy’ in their social circles.” Not receiving help for mental illness leads to worse and worse conditions for people.

Reverend Michael Walrond of the First Corinthian Baptist Church is tackling this issue.

The H.O.P.E. Center

Rev. Walrond has a goal: to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness and its treatment within the black community. Where else to start but his church? Walrond recently launched the H.O.P.E. Center, which stands for Healing On Purpose & Evolving. The program offers therapeutic services that are affordable and community-based. Located at 228 W 116th St. in NYC, the center is open to people of all ages, and offers both individual and group therapies.

“There’s a normalization of trauma in this community. We don’t engage it, we don’t address it. The traditional response was to pray about it. Not to negate that, but that’s not the same as having a mental health practitioner. Language is the biggest way to take the stigma away,” said Rev. Walrond.

the H.O.P.E. Center Harlem

Rev. Frazier (L) and Rev. Walrond (R) of the HOPE Center

NYC First Lady McCray

Last week at the grand opening of the HOPE Center, Chirlane McCray, wife of NYC Mayor Bill deBlasio, was there for support. The couple advocates for mental health, and in November of last year launched ThriveNYC, an outline of initiatives that support the mental health of New Yorkers. If anyone understands the plight of New York’s mentally ill, then it’s Chirlane McCray.

At the HOPE Center’s opening, McCray said the following: “Government cannot do this work alone and we shouldn’t expect people to travel someplace unfamiliar to deal with people they do not trust when they’re suffering. Now folks who live, work and worship in this community are only a short walk away from high-quality affordable mental health care and that care will be delivered by people who understand this community.”

What We’re Hoping For

Mental illness, especially that of drug addiction, has a negative connotation in American society. People like Rev. Walrond and Chirlane McCray want that to change. Also, through community support, we hope that people of all backgrounds begin to understand that they are not crazy. Having a mental illness, knowing it, and leaving it untreated… now that might be crazy.

If you or someone you love is dealing with mental illness, seek help today. Better yet, if you are in the NYC area, drop by and see the Reverend.

Naltrexone VS Acamprosate: Which Drug to Combat Alcoholism and When?

When it comes to stopping drinking, many different circumstances exist. Maybe it’s time to quit drinking. Maybe you’re drinking too heavily too often and you want to cut it back to a normal level. Maybe you’ve been clean for some time but you’re having cravings for alcohol. These are three completely different circumstances, and each should be handled in its own way.

So where do you turn? Your most likely first step is to enter yourself into an alcohol abuse treatment program. During this process, it’s almost guaranteed that medication assisted treatment will be an option. Only three FDA-approved drugs exist to combat alcoholism: naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram. However, in the medical field, much debate exists as to which drug to use and under what circumstance.

(Note: Disulfiram strictly causes the body to respond negatively to alcohol. Drinking with disulfiram in the system produces a multitude of hangover-like effects, and is only used as a physical deterrent. In different ways, both naltrexone and acamprosate are used to reduce craving, block the effects of drinking, and ultimately lead to abstinence or responsible drinking. Therefore, in this article, disulfiram is minimally focused on.)

Determining which Medication to Use

In 2013, UK-based Drug & Alcohol Findings (DAF) performed an analysis of forty years’ worth of scientific studies regarding the naltrexone/acamprosate debate. The results have just recently been published. What this means is the DAF research team reviewed countless studies on each drug, all performed between 1970 and 2009. The team sought to find “which is best in which circumstances and for which treatment goals.”

In this article, we will compare the alcohol-dependence medications naltrexone and acamprosate, in order to establish a knowledge base. Then we will review the findings of the DAF analysis, regarding which medication to use and under which circumstance. Finally, we will discuss the current use of both medications, some alternatives, and the best overall methods of alcohol treatment per circumstance.

What are Naltrexone and Acamprosate?

Naltrexone blocks opioid receptors in the brain. This causes the effects of opioids such as heroin or OxyContin to be prevented and/or reversed. Such drugs are called opioid antagonists. It turns out that opioid antagonists are excellent at decreasing alcohol consumption, as reinforced by an Oxford study. What’s more, naltrexone “is probably the most thoroughly scientifically established adjunct in the alcoholism treatment field,” as quoted from the study. Naltrexone is sold under the brand names of Revia, Depade, and Vivitrol.

Acamprosate essentially resets the chemical imbalances caused by problematic drinking. Among many other things, alcohol abuse leads to an overabundance of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical produced by the brain that reinforces rewarding behavior, such as eating, exercising, or having sex, by creating feelings of joy. With prolonged alcohol abuse, the brain becomes used to extra dopamine, and eventually the drinker cannot feel that joy without alcohol.

This is the short story of what prolonged alcohol abuse does to your brain, and only one aspect of it. Multiple chemical imbalances occur in the brain because of alcohol abuse, and acamprosate can “restore the normal activity of glutaminergic neurons, which become hyperexcited as a result of chronic alcohol exposure,” according to the National Library of Medicine. Now, that’s a mouthful for laymen like yours truly, but basically this means acamprosate restores the balance of a pre-alcohol-soaked brain.

So, while naltrexone blocks the effects of alcohol and reduces the craving for it, acamprosate resets the brain’s balance and promotes abstinence from alcohol.

The Drug & Alcohol Findings Study

The question remains of which medication to use and when. The Drug & Alcohol Findings (DAF) study, linked again here, determined just that. First and foremost, the researchers tested each medication against a placebo. Both were found to work much better than the placebo, and therefore both are legitimate treatments for alcohol abuse. What they discovered next contradicted previous knowledge regarding naltrexone and acamprosate.

Previously, three major-scale studies had been performed to determine when to use which of the two drugs. The first study, in 2003, found little difference between them, giving naltrexone “a slight edge in delaying a return to drinking…,” as stated in the DAF study. The second study, in 2006, concluded both drugs to be virtually ineffective, finding “no significant effects of either medication compared with a placebo…” and the third study, also in ’06, determined naltrexone to be more effective when accompanied by psychosocial therapy, such as by a treatment facility. The opposite was found for acamprosate.

Obviously these conclusions are all very different. The DAF researchers believe they have once and for all determined a correct conclusion. According to their study, “naltrexone should be considered for patients who want less often to drink heavily, while acamprosate is better for those who seek abstinence.” Furthermore, both medications are more effective for those who are detoxified of alcohol.

Perhaps nothing revolutionary has been discovered here, due to the fact that both medications are fairly safe. However, the results of the DAF study help narrow down which path to take according to circumstances. The results will quicken the process of medication assisted treatment for alcohol abuse.

The Results for Naltrexone

Prior to the DAF study, it was commonly believed that naltrexone and acamprosate were nearly interchangeable. This is not so. Naltrexone benefits those seeking to cut back their current drinking, whether aiming for abstinence or not. Also believed before this study was that naltrexone can and even should be taken by patients who are still drinking. However, “required abstinence before treatment was associated with greater abstinence during treatment and greater reductions in heavy drinking.”

In further contrast to popular belief, the DAF study found that naltrexone is less effective as part of an alcohol abuse treatment program if abstinence is the main goal. In other words, if naltrexone is to be used as part of a treatment program, it is more effective when the program does not focus on abstaining from drinking.

The Results for Acamprosate

Before the DAF study, acamprosate was considered to be inferior to naltrexone. However, if a patient’s situation calls for complete abstinence as opposed to curbing drinking, acamprosate is preferred. Also, similarly to naltrexone, it is best if a patient is detoxified from alcohol when using acamprosate. “Both seem more effective when participants are detoxified and abstinent when treatment begins,” says the DAF study.

It was also noted that in the case of acamprosate, it’s possible “these requirements [of abstinence] filter out less committed and motivated drinkers, leaving a sample more likely to comply with treatment…” This is not the case with naltrexone, since it has for decades been given to patients who continue drinking alcohol regularly.

Regarding using acamprosate as part of an alcohol abuse treatment program, the results are the same as with naltrexone. No clear evidence was found to suggest that psychosocial therapy improves or worsens its effects. However, there is a slight lean toward psychosocial therapy actually weakening both medications’ effects. As stated in the DAF study, “…neither medication needs therapy to succeed,” adding that both medications may work better “when not overshadowed by effective psychosocial approaches.”

Current Uses (and their Necessary Updates)

The current status of naltrexone is best summarized by Dr. Stewart Leavitt of SAMHSA, or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: “In brief, naltrexone is significantly beneficial in helping those patients who cannot remain abstinent to reduce their drinking behaviors, breaking the vicious, self-destructive cycle in alcoholics whereby one drink leads to another, and allowing more quality time for psychosocial therapy to be productive.”

However, the DAF study has revealed that naltrexone may be more effective when separated from therapy, and is very likely to be more effective when used by a detoxified patient.

The current status of acamprosate is not as straightforward. It is widely believed that more research must be done on the medication. However, acamprosate is being used. According to an article by Dr. Bankole Johnson published on UpToDate, acamprosate is able “to reduce alcohol consumption compared with placebo in patients with alcohol dependence.” The major difference is how acamprosate achieves this. Yes, the drug seems to rebalance the brain’s chemicals post-alcohol abuse, but as written in the Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory published by SAMHSA, “Although acamprosate’s mechanism of action has not been clearly established, it may work by reducing symptoms of postacute (protracted) withdrawal, such as insomnia, anxiety, and restlessness.”

However, the DAF study shows that acamprosate “has a better record at promoting abstinence than naltrexone,” and is much less effective at reducing craving. As opposed to using acamprosate to reduce alcohol consumption, patients are better off using it once they are detoxified, in order to balance the brain. The medical community knows acamprosate does this, but still isn’t 100% clear how.

What this Suggests

As mentioned before, only three medications are FDA-approved for use in combating alcohol abuse. Aside from naltrexone and acamprosate, there is disulfiram, which if you remember is basically a physical deterrent from alcohol. If you have disulfiram in your system and you consume alcohol, a list of unpleasant things begins happening to you. Due to its blatant effects, disulfiram is a much simpler medication than naltrexone or acamprosate. The use of disulfiram is a common option, and is very different from the other two medications. Regarding naltrexone and acamprosate, what the DAF study truly uncovered was a paradox.

The study provided more specific uses than previously realized for the medications. Simultaneously, the study showed that “there is no evidence-based way to tell which drug will work best for an individual patient, or if any will help at all.” As a matter of fact, only “1 in 7 or 1 in 8 trial participants would not benefit more than when prescribed an inactive placebo.” This means there is good news and bad news. The good news is that there are now more effective ways to use naltrexone and acamprosate. The bad news is obvious. Utilizing medication assisted treatment may still be a bit of a guessing game for a while.

Just because the DAF study found psychosocial therapy ineffective when combined with medication does not mean the practice should be stopped. After all, in the words of the study itself, “Despite contrary findings… it remains possible that in terms of absolute improvements, supplementing medication with therapy will gain the best outcomes for a patient.”

The Best Choice for You

Frankly, what’s best for you is up to you. There are several options. Seeking entry into an addiction treatment facility is always your best bet. There, you have all of your options open to you. Medication assisted treatment or not, the help received through a recovery program is invaluable. That being said, what options are there regarding medication, and should you or shouldn’t you accompany them with therapy?

naltrexone-studies

The above chart is provided by Drug and Alcohol Findings as part of a series on Naltrexone. Although the most successful method is using both medications at once with no therapy, none of the methods fall below a 55% success rate. However it cannot be ignored that use of a placebo is the least successful method.

It boils down to a personal choice. Whichever method works best for you, stick to it. Some people might not require psychosocial or psychological therapies in order to sober up, but medication seems to help all recovering alcoholics.

The bottom line is that detoxification is an absolute requirement. Whether you aim for abstinence or responsible drinking, if you are abusing alcohol and want to stop, you must detox. If anything, the DAF study has reinforced this.

21st Century CURES Act Will Give $1 Billion to Fight Opioid Abuse

heroin-and-prescription-pill-addictionOn November 30th, the House of Representatives voted 392-26 in favor of a bill called the 21st Century Cures Act. Then five days later, the Senate voted 85-13 in favor. President Obama has already said he will sign it as soon as he can. Why such a rush? Because the Cures Act “could help unlock a cure for Alzheimer’s, end cancer as we know it, and help people seeking treatment for opioid addiction, said Obama in his most recent weekly address.

Mainly, the bill allows “the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] more discretion in the kinds of studies required to evaluate new devices and medicines for approval,” as written by NPR. This would speed up the process of FDA approval for certain drugs and medical devices. Also, the bill provides significant funding for the National Institutes of Health, as well as for researching cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other serious illnesses.

Most importantly for the addiction recovery community, the bill provides $1 billion in funding to combat heroin/prescription pill abuse. “For nearly a year I’ve been calling for this investment so hundreds of thousands of Americans can get the treatment they need,” Obama said in the address.

What this Means for Opioid Addiction Recovery

The addiction recovery aspect of the Cures Act is very much an extension of the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act, or CARA, the single largest effort toward addiction recovery in our nation’s history. However, Obama requested $1.1 billion in funding for CARA and only $181 million was approved. With the passing of the 21st Century Cures Act, the original amount requested by the president is provided.

Regarding the Cures Act, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota “called the bill’s broad approach and widespread support ‘significant’ in a chamber often unable to act because of partisan gridlock,” as reported by her state’s Star Tribune. Klobuchar was one of the proponents of CARA, and she understands the opioid epidemic better than most. “As a former prosecutor, I have witnessed firsthand the devastation caused by opioid abuse in communities across the country. In Minnesota alone, overdose deaths rose by 11 percent in just one year,” Klobuchar said.

With a billion dollars in funding, the Cures Act promises more education and prevention efforts, expanded Narcan availability, resources to treat incarcerated individuals with addiction, disposal sites for unused prescription pills, and programs aimed directly at the heroin epidemic.

Some Opposition

It’s no wonder that just like CARA, the Cures Act was passed with flying colors. However, some government officials have criticized the 21st Century Cares Act.

The main argument against the act says that it financially benefits the drug industry and the medical device industry, but nobody else. The Los Angeles Times called the act “a huge deregulatory giveaway to the pharmaceutical and medical device industry…” adding that “nothing in the measure would address the main problem the public sees with the drug industry – inordinately high prices.”

Yes, the Cures Act will speed up the process for drugs and devices to get FDA approval, but with addiction and other diseases killing hundreds of thousands of Americans, something needs to be done. Surely the FDA won’t approve medicines or devices they see unfit, and this author for one trusts science.

Medication assisted treatment (MAT) is an enormous benefit for those battling opioid addiction, and with the Cures Act funding research with billions of dollars, some good must come of this. The advancements made possible by this act could turn out to save countless lives.

Six Alcohol Poisoning Deaths Daily in US

Forget about the thousands of deaths caused by drunken driving accidents. Forget about the discomfort and pain of delirium tremens, Alzheimer’s, cirrhosis, hepatitis, or fatty liver disease. Forget about the children born with fetal alcohol syndrome, which can be fatal in the worst cases. As terrible as these outcomes of alcohol abuse are, remember this: Alcohol is killing six Americans every day from alcohol poisoning, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) last year.

Also, somewhat strangely, the overwhelming majority of alcohol poisoning deaths are occurring in adults aged 35 to 64. Even stranger, 7 out of every 10 people who die this way are NON-ADDICTS. This goes to prove how dangerous the substance alcohol is, let alone the risky behavior it causes and its addictive nature.

We as a nation are combating an alcohol (and drug) epidemic. In this article, the CDC report is summarized, as well as what alcohol poisoning actually is and how it can happen to anyone. The recent Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, the first of its kind, is a major step along the way to reducing, eliminating, and eventually preventing unsafe alcohol (and drug) abuse.

The Facts

The CDC found there to be 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths every year in the US, which averages out to 6.02 people per day. An overwhelming 75% of these deaths involve 35 to 64 year old adults. Those between 45 and 54 showed the highest alcohol poisoning death rate. This came as a shock to the researchers.

Ileana Arias, principal deputy director of the CDC, told US News in their article on the findings, “The majority of these deaths are not among college students, whom we typically associate with binge drinking. We were surprised.”  This goes to show that American adults are not only dealing with severe alcohol issues, they are not getting the help they need.

“Obviously we still have serious alcohol addictions around people in middle age that are unaddressed or untreated,” commented University of Pittsburgh professor of psychiatry Dr. Antoine Douaihy to US News. Obviously he’s right. Not only is that so, but due to recent changes in how alcohol poisoning deaths are calculated, government health officials believe the death rate to be higher than 6 a day.

In an effort to increase the overall health of Americans, the government issued Dietary Guidelines in 2010. According to the section regarding alcohol, “low risk” drinking is defined as “no more than 14 drinks a week for men and 7 drinks a week for women with no more than 4 drinks on any given day for men and 3 drinks a day for women.” Essentially, this is two drink daily for males and one drink daily for females.

Why Adults?

Apparently ignoring the guidelines, over 38 million American adults binge drink four times a month. During these binges, an average of eight drinks is consumed. In contrast, underage binge drinking (and drinking in general) is at its lowest since 1975, as found by the National Institutes of Health. Right now, fewer 15-24 year olds die from alcohol poisoning than those over 65. The consensus is that a combination of anti-alcohol efforts and programs, peer disapproval of alcohol, and difficulty to acquire all contribute to the decline in underage drinking. This graph from the CDC shows how alcohol use is lowest among schoolchildren and highest among the middle-aged:

alcohol-poisoning-deaths

David Jernigan directs the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. According to Jernigan, another reason adults are three times more likely to die from alcohol poisoning is actually pretty simple. Younger people can tolerate higher amounts of alcohol, as they haven’t lived long enough to develop long-term physical issues. Plus they stay awake longer. The fact that alcohol poisoning deaths are lowest among young adults and highest among middle-aged adults proves this.

Common sense tells us there is a wide age range regarding drunk driving. A sixteen year old is just as likely as a 60 year old to crash a vehicle if intoxicated. There is also a wide age range regarding alcoholism, research shows. Someone can become alcohol-dependent at virtually any age. So, the fact that alcohol poisoning occurs mainly in middle-aged adults is a concern.

“When people think about alcohol, they tend to think about two problems: addiction and drinking and driving. This [the CDC report] shows there is another big problem – you can die from alcohol itself,” said Jernigan. So what exactly is alcohol poisoning?

Poisoned by Booze

Alcohol poisoning is medically defined as “a condition in which a toxic amount of alcohol has been consumed, usually in a short period of time. The affected individual may become extremely disoriented, unresponsive, or unconscious, with shallow breathing.” However, there truly is no clear-cut definition of alcohol poisoning, because alcohol is a poison.

Online news source Gizmodo interviewed an emergency room doctor about alcohol poisoning. (Because the doctor wished to remain anonymous, she is referred to in the article as Doctor L.) She explained how alcohol poisoning actually occurs with every single drink. The doctor said, “‘Alcohol poisoning’ is a layman’s term. Alcohol intoxication is a spectrum and there isn’t a specific threshold that one crosses and suddenly becomes poisoned.”

Every case is individual. All people respond to alcohol uniquely, and therefore no terms exist to define levels of alcohol poisoning. Obviously though, some cases are worse than others. Doctor L explained what an emergency room staff would do for a mild case of alcohol poisoning, and then for a severe case.

In a Mild Case

The doctor explained how mild alcohol poisoning is accompanied by dehydration, increased heart rate, and low blood pressure in some cases. Therefore, other than hooking an IV up to the patient, mostly the medical staff simply observes. “Often it is just a matter of watching the patient until he/she recovers. Intravenous fluids are often administered to help hydrate the patient…” said Doctor L. Victims of alcohol poisoning suffer from severe dehydration because alcohol is a diuretic, a substance which increases urination. Also, vomiting rids the body of water, furthering this dehydration.

A mild case of alcohol poisoning is no laughing matter. The term ‘mild’ is only being used here in comparison to a severe case, which can be fatal. The difference between a mild case and a severe case can literally be a drink or two. This is because someone can continue to drink even once diagnosable alcohol poisoning has set in.

In a Severe Case

Again, there are no clear levels of alcohol poisoning. However, with more severe cases of alcohol poisoning, victims are usually unconscious, unresponsive, vomiting, or any combination of the three. In severe cases, Doctor L said to Gizmodo, “the goal is to maintain adequate breathing and circulation until the body (mainly the liver) metabolizes the alcohol. It (alcohol) depresses the respiratory drive and may result in inadequate oxygen levels and/or excess carbon dioxide levels.” Patients are usually oxygenated.

Worse yet, alcohol causes failure of the gag reflex, greatly increasing the likelihood of choking to death on vomit. Preventing this used to be done by stomach pumping, but it has since been realized that pumping a stomach is more harmful than helpful. Nowadays, “a different, smaller tube is inserted through the mouth or nose, then threaded through the esophagus and into the stomach. The tube is placed on suction, which decompresses the stomach and greatly reduces the risk of vomiting,” said the doctor.

In any case, alcohol poisoning can be life-threatening. It is altogether dangerous, and a medical emergency in every case. A study performed two years ago by the CDC and multiple state health departments revealed that between 2006 and 2010, “9.8% of all deaths in the United States… were attributable to excessive drinking, and 69% of all AAD [alcohol-attributable deaths] involved working-age adults.” Furthermore, the study showed that in just those five years, a total of 2,560,290 years of life were taken away by excessive alcohol use. This is measured in YPLL, or years of potential life lost.

Not only is alcohol killing us, it’s giving us shorter lives.

What We’re Doing About It

In the recent CDC report regarding alcohol poisoning, (linked again here), three suggestions are given to both individual states and communities. Summarized, they are:

  1. Support alcohol awareness and prevention programs. The stronger the alcohol policy, the less binge drinking per state.
  2. Partner with law enforcement, medical personnel, health care providers, the addiction recovery community, etc. to help reduce excessive drinking
  3. “Monitor the role of alcohol in injuries and deaths.”

While practicing safe drinking is a strong recommendation, it’s rather apparent that Americans do not drink safely. Therefore, in addition to alcohol awareness and education, there needs to be a focus on treating those who already have alcohol issues.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 was enacted in order to increase the number of Americans with health insurance, and to keep the insurance at a reasonable cost. The act included a list of ten “essential health benefits.” In a beautiful stroke of luck for addicts seeking help, substance abuse disorders are one of them. Since January 1, 2014, “all health insurance sold on Health Insurance Exchanges or provided by Medicaid to certain newly eligible adults… must include services for substance use disorders,” according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

While this was an essential step to be taken, the year 2014 had the most fatal drug and alcohol overdoses ever recorded in American history. In a well thought out response to this, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy made history recently by releasing the first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health (linked again here). In it, Murthy explains how two major things need to happen. The public image of addicts needs to shift from one of negativity to one of care and concern. Also, the healthcare system needs to incorporate drug and alcohol screening into routine medical visits for all patients.

The Surgeon General’s Report (and why we should all be screened)

surgeon-general-murthyMurthy believes the first step is for addicts to be treated like people with a disease, as opposed to like a criminal or an outcast. After all, addiction is indeed a disease of the brain. Once the societal outlook on addiction is similar to the outlook on any other disease, Murthy believes the next step is to integrate screening for substance abuse disorders into all doctor visits. Consider this section taken from the report itself, as there is simply no better way to phrase the screening argument:

Historically, our society has treated addiction and misuse of alcohol and drugs as symptoms of moral weakness or as a willful rejection of societal norms, and these problems have been addressed primarily through the criminal justice system. Our health care system has not given the same level of attention to substance use disorders as it has to other health concerns that affect similar numbers of people.

It is known that most people with substance use disorders do not seek treatment on their own, many because they do not believe they need it or they are not ready for it, and others because they are not aware that treatment exists or how to access it. But individuals with substance use disorders often do access the health care system for other reasons, including acute health problems like illness, injury, or overdose, as well as chronic health conditions such as HIV/AIDS, heart disease, or depression. Thus, screening for substance misuse and substance use disorders in diverse health care settings is the first step to identifying substance use problems and engaging patients in the appropriate level of care.”

In Conclusion

89% of drug/alcohol addicts receive zero treatment in their lives. The reasons for this are many, but seemingly screening for addiction routinely, in combination with addiction treatment being covered by insurance, would end the addiction crisis in America. One can only hope that these changes are made, and that they are effective.

Children of Alcoholics: The Effects & Coping with the Stress

Being the children of alcoholics, (a COA), can be extremely stressful. Your parent(s) may get angry a lot, may threaten you, may forget lots of things, and may even abuse you. The important thing to know is that there is help, and that you are not alone. We will discuss some of the possible effects of being the child of an alcoholic, as well as some methods for coping with the stress it brings.

Approximately 18.25 million people are children of alcoholics, and these children are 4 times as likely to become addicted than children of non-addicts. Every second, two babies are born to addicted parents. One last fact: 43% of adults have been exposed to alcoholism in their lives. Alcoholism is a pervasive disease and understanding what having alcoholic parents means and how to deal with it is crucial.

Effects of Being Children of Alcoholics

Children of alcoholics are at higher risk than others for emotional issues. Obviously everyone will have his or her own personal experience, but there are some common effects of being a COA. Shame is commonly felt, especially if the child is hiding the parental alcoholism. The child may feel embarrassed of the parents, and this may cause the child to lie or even develop a story to explain it. Guilt is also commonly felt by children of alcoholics, but it is very important to realize and remember that it is not the child’s fault, regardless of what may be said.

Other effects of having alcoholic parents include feeling angry, feeling depressed, falling behind on schoolwork, feeling stressed, and feeling alone/reclusive. These emotions are unhealthy but justified. If you are the children of alcoholics and you feel any of these things, do not blame yourself. You are not meant to carry this on your own.

How to Deal with Alcoholic Parents

If possible, talk to your parents. Let them know how you’re feeling. An alcoholic trapped in the depths of the addiction may not even realize what they’re doing to their loved ones. Maybe even encourage them to not drink or to drink less. If it’s not possible to talk to them, try talking to a friend or to a counselor. Most schools offer counseling, and there are also plenty of support groups available. Al-Anon is an organization that helps the family and friends of alcoholics “find understanding and support” through meetings. A branch of Al-Anon known as Alateen is designed specifically for children of alcoholics.

Sometimes alcoholic parents can be so harsh that more than talking is required. If you are being abused, get out. Call 911 or someone you know and love that can help you. Even threats of abuse are taken very seriously. That being said, if talking simply won’t work, and your parents are not a threat to you, get out of the house. From moving in with a different relative to joining a club, the less time you spend at home right now, the better.

It’s up to the parent.

The bottom line is that it’s on the parent or parents to curb their drinking and get the help they need. You can talk with them, cope with them, beg them and cry, but until they want to stop drinking, they won’t. Talk to them. Talk to friends and other family. Talk to counselors. Even host an intervention, if need be. The goal is to get your parents to understand what their alcoholism is doing to the family.

For young children of alcoholics, click here for a do-and-don’t list regarding coping. For some helpful tips on dealing with alcoholic parents, click here.

 

Blog Coming Soon!

Thank you for all the support over the last few months. We are working on getting our writing team together, and will be releasing the blog in the near future. Please continue to help support us as we strive to provide the best information possible for those seeking alcohol addiciton, prevention and awareness information. – AlcoholAwareness.org Team