Heavy Drinking Versus Alcoholism

Gillian May

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As a former nurse and recovering alcoholic, I want to educate people about the dangers and health issues of alcoholism. I know that education would have helped me understand some confusing issues. Unfortunately, current education around alcoholism and health issues is not widely available or common knowledge.

Most people know that alcohol can be bad for you at a specific limit. However, most people ignore warnings because alcohol is used by so many in our society around the globe. Warnings usually advocate drinking responsibly, but no one knows what that means or why.

According to the CDC, heavy drinking is defined as 8 or more drinks per week for a woman or 15 or more drinks per week for a man. And according to the Mayo Clinic, alcoholism is defined as a pattern of drinking that causes any kind of negative effect in someone’s life. They may have problems controlling the amount of alcohol, continuing to use alcohol despite adverse consequences, drinking more to get the desired effect, and having withdrawal symptoms when alcohol consumption stops.

Therefore, heavy drinking that brings about negative consequences on a frequent basis, may be considered alcoholism.

During the height of my alcoholism, I would have said that I functioned very well and didn’t have any negative outcomes. However, the denial inherent in alcoholism covered obvious issues like frequent terrible hangovers (which is alcohol withdrawal), health issues, inability to concentrate, and feeling tired all the time. Many alcoholics I have talked to admit that they, too, had many negative consequences that they just didn’t see or refused to see.

However, reading an article or some education about the real risks and what is considered heavy or alcoholic drinking may have helped me. Most of us drink because everyone seems to drink nowadays so, why not? But what if we understood that if we frequently consume a lot of alcohol and receive adverse effects from it, then we are engaging in alcoholic drinking.

Alcoholism is when you can’t stop or reduce drinking, and you continue to drink despite getting severe hangovers or other consequences. These consequences don’t have to be serious to be considered a sign of alcoholism.

People must understand this because, unfortunately, heavy drinking is on the rise in the US and around the globe. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), in 2019, over 25.8% of adults in the US engaged in heavy drinking. Also, the NIAAA states that those who engaged in heavy drinking were 70% more likely to have an alcohol-related emergency department visit. Lastly, heavy drinking got even worse during the pandemic, where alcohol sales rose by 34% between April and June of 2020.

These statistics tell us that we have a severe rise in alcoholism, yet nothing is getting done to increase treatment resources or enhance educational information for the general public.

We already know that prohibition doesn’t work, but we need a concerted effort to reduce the issues that contribute to alcoholism. According to research around alcohol addiction prevention, we need better social services, jobs, housing, access to health care, and a sense of community. We also need better education that doesn’t use a lot of medical jargon to reach a wider audience.

More education that helps people understand the nature, symptoms, and qualifications for alcoholism would help people reach out for help more. We also need to change the narrative in our society around alcohol use. I recall when tobacco use was considered cool, but public health cracked down on it due to the research showing increased death and morbidity. Perhaps the same needs to happen with alcohol so that people understand the toxicity of this drug. The more we advocate for this, the better.

If you or someone you know engages in heavy drinking with negative consequences, there may be a developing alcoholism issue. The negative effects could be as simple as being sick after a night of drinking or not doing your job correctly due to a hangover. Many of us don’t realize that this could be alcoholism. But the more we talk about this, the better we will be.

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I'm a former nurse turned freelance writer. I have extensive experience in administration, frontline care, and education in mental health, public health, and geriatrics. However, after 20 years, I needed a change and always wanted to write. I have personal and family experience in mental health and addictions, so I'm passionate about advocacy and education in those areas. I'm also a traveler, photographer, and artist. I funnel all my various expertise into my writing and hope to provide valuable content that is entertaining and educational. Join my email list if you want to read more of my work - https://upbeat-trader-4181.ck.page/839d0ab3f9. I also have a book on Alcoholic Liver Disease coming out in 2021.

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