April is Alcohol Awareness Month: When to Stop and How to Get Help

A glass of wine, a cold beer, a smoky glass of whiskey: drinking can be plenty of fun. But unfortunately, alcohol causes a staggering number of deaths and provokes disease in millions of American.

An estimated 88,000 people die each year in the United States from alcohol-related causes. More than 690,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are physically assaulted by another student who has been drinking, each year in the US.

A study from the CDC from 2014 showed that excessive alcohol consumption accounted for nearly 1 in 10 deaths among working-age US adults, between 20 and 64 years old.

The same study also revealed that excessive alcohol use brought about 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost each year between 2006 and 2010, shortening the lives of those who died by an average of 30 years. (CDC study: Preventing Chronic Disease)

Educating ourselves about alcohol – what it is, what it does to the body, how to measure our consumption of it, and its dangers – can help bring down these numbers. By being aware of the negative effects of the overconsumption of alcohol, we can help reduce unnecessary deaths across the country.

Ethanol

Ethanol, also called alcohol or ethyl alcohol, is a volatile and flammable liquid. It is produced through a number of fermentation processes and other chemical processes. It is one of humanity’s oldest drugs, and is known to be highly addictive.

Alcohol intoxication occurs when alcohol enters the bloodstream faster than the liver can process it. The effects come quickly—flushed skin, decreased social inhibition, even euphoria.

BAC

But, as the blood alcohol content rises beyond safe limits in our bodies, the feeling of euphoria goes away. We start to experience gross motor important, loss of good judgment. It can become difficult to speak and you may slur your words.

Raising the blood alcohol content in our bodies too high inevitably leads to a “blackout,” and eventually death.

How much to drink?

It’s important to know that there are several factors in the effect that alcohol has on our BAC (blood alcohol content).

The standard measurements are: one “drink” = one 12 oz. beer, one 1.5 oz. shot, or one 5 oz. glass of wine.

Yet, this depends on the ABV (alcohol by volume) of the drink in question. For example, a domestic American beer often has a 5% ABV, but many craft beers can have ABVs that are double that. Popular craft beers like IPAs often have higher ABVs.

We can quickly see that a 12 oz. beer at 10% ABV would have the equivalent effect on our BAC as drinking two 5% ABV beers.

For liquor, it’s important to note that a friend or bartender may not always use a 1.5 oz. shot glass while preparing your drink, or may use more than 1.5 oz. in your mixed drink. So your single glass of Rum & Coke could be much more potent than one standard “drink.”

Calculating BAC also relies on factors such as height and weight, and whether there is any food in your stomach to slow the process of alcohol being absorbed into your body. If you’re out with your friends at the bar, it doesn’t always make sense to “keep pace” with their drinking.

Use these charts to see how many drinks will cause what level of BAC in your body: http://www.brad21.org/bac_charts.html

When to Stop & How to Get Help

Excessive alcohol use is generally pinned down to 15 drinks or more per week for men, or 8 drinks or more per week for women. Binge drinking is defined as 5 more or more drinks consumed on one occasion by men, or 4 or more drinks consumed on one occasion for women.

If you are dependent on alcohol and are trying to quit, always seek assistance from medical professionals. Quitting “cold turkey” from heavy alcohol use can be life-threatening and can manifest in shaking, confusion, hallucinations, or worse. Sudden withdrawal from alcohol can cause brain damage, seizures, heart palpitations, and other effects that can result in death.

If you’re worried about your drinking habits, you should talk to your primary care provider immediately. Don’t be afraid to speak with your friends or family for support. It’s never too late to get help. If you need a primary care provider, you can call 906.228.9440 to find a doctor near you in the Upper Peninsula. Or, use our online Find a Doctor tool to find a provider in your area.

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