Alcohol use disorder is one of the most common substance abuse problems worldwide; in fact, it accounts for 3 million deaths or 5.3% of all deaths annually. Additionally, it is a huge economic and social burden to society.
Alcohol is a depressant that slows down the brain and its responses and has a high potential for abuse. When combined with some medications, it may be dangerous and even lethal. There are serious long-term health effects of drinking alcohol on a regular basis in large doses - many alcoholics go on to have liver failure and even cancer.
There are many contributing factors, which include genetics, family history, sociodemographic characteristics, history of trauma and abuse, and even culture. On average, men tend to drink more than women and more likely to be associated with alcohol-related deaths although the number of women with alcohol use disorders is also on the rise.
Alcohol guidelines vary worldwide, but on average, both men and women should not exceed more than 10 standard drinks a week or 4 standard drinks on a single occasion. While there are some reported benefits of moderate drinking, the risks of frequent alcohol use outweigh the benefits. Additionally, for some people, drinking alcohol can be particularly harmful. For example, for pregnant women, there are severe consequences for the unborn child as they can develop a condition called “foetal alcohol syndrome”. Alcohol can also interact with some medications.
Signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse
The most common symptoms include:
Strong cravings for alcohol, even early in the morning
Feelings of guilt about alcohol use
Been told by friends and family that alcohol use is excessive
Blackouts or memory loss
Withdrawal symptoms such as headache, nausea, and vomiting
Health complications associated with alcohol abuse
When a person is heavily intoxicated, he/she/they may be involved in fights and other forms of violence, car accidents, and risky behaviours such as unprotected sexual intercourse with multiple partners and other types of substance abuse. This may lead to injury, infections, and even deaths. Over time, if a person continues to drink alcohol in large amounts on a frequent basis, he/she/they may develop chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, liver failure, memory loss and neurological problems as well as cancers of the liver, mouth, and throat.
There are many types of treatment available to prevent relapse. Medications may also be given to treat withdrawal symptoms. Patients who struggle with alcohol use are also encouraged to undergo behavioural and psychosocial treatments.
For more information, please visit: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/alcohol, https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm