Having a drink every now and then can be fun- for some. There are some that “a drink” can or will become 2,3,4, or 18 drinks. If you can identify with some of these warning signs it may be the right time to take a good look at your drinking habits. Alcohol can very easily become an everyday habit that can feel impossible to stop, but it isn’t.
Do I Have a Problem?
First, looking at the reasons WHY you drink. A stressful day? A drink with dinner almost every night? Going out with coworkers or friends? Rewarding yourself after a successful day? Trying to drown the sorrows of the past? Second, how much alcohol do you consume in a night? Can you just have that one glass of wine or just one or two cocktails? How much alcohol do you consume in order to drown that pain? Some people can have 2 or 3 glasses of wine, beer, or liquor and stop drinking. Others, however, start drinking and cannot stop. Even with the intention of going out for a few cocktails, they can end up drinking until they blackout. There are some warning signs that you or someone you know can look out for:
• Drinking more than you planned to. It may not seem like a problem, but it is a sign you have a problem controlling how much you drink.
• Drinking too much even though you know you have something important to do the next day like going to work or school.
• If you stop hanging out with friends that do not drink.
• When certain places, things, or even time of day triggers you to grab that drink.
• An important warning sign is when you begin to ignore your health. If you begin feeling pain around your liver- see a doctor.
What Alcohol Does to the Body
There are stages to alcoholism. You begin abusing alcohol and if you ignore the warning signs you can become an alcoholic. Alcohol is a depressant, although it may not feel like it at first. In a heavy drinker, the brain is continually exposed to the depressant effect of alcohol. The brain will adapt to compensate for the depressing effects of the alcohol.
It does this by producing naturally stimulating chemicals (such as serotonin or norepinephrine, which is a relative of adrenaline) in larger quantities than normal. Prolonged alcohol abuse actually changes your brain’s chemistry.
Abusing alcohol causes bacteria to grow in your gut. That bacteria can cause liver damage and also intestinal problems. Your body does not have a way to store alcohol. Alcohol forces your body to begin metabolizing the alcohol rather than processing fats, proteins, and carbohydrates first.
This is why alcohol causes so much damage to your liver. It is the liver’s job to detoxify the blood. This process is called oxidation. Oxidation turns the alcohol into water and carbon dioxide. When these chemicals accumulate it begins to take a toll on your liver and body. According to gastroenterologist K. V. Narayanan Menon, MD, about 90% of people that drink more than 2 ounces of alcohol daily have a fatty liver.
That means they are in the early stage of alcoholic liver disease. Continued daily drinking overtime will lead to liver fibrosis, cirrhosis, even alcoholic Hepatitis C. Because the blood isn’t properly detoxified, it can also cause the pancreas to become inflamed.
A concerning problem is what alcohol abuse will do to your heart. Abusing alcohol too often can cause the heart to weaken and creates an irregular beat pattern. It can put people at a higher risk for high blood pressure and heart attacks. Abusing alcohol also affects your immune system. People that drink too often or every day are at risk to catch colds or the flu much easier than people that do not drink. This leaves the body much more susceptible to all different kinds of infections.
There is treatment for alcohol abuse, alcoholism, and the earlier stages of liver disease. Inpatient facilities are recommended for alcoholics. The withdrawal symptoms of alcohol abuse causes your liver and pancreas to kick into overtime. Your pancreas begins to produce extra insulin, causing severe craving for carbohydrates.
For heavy drinkers, a detox and then an intensive inpatient program is highly recommended. Because these symptoms can be so severe, it is much safer to have a medical professional available. Symptoms include trembling, the shakes, severe anxiety, hallucations (both audio and visual), flu like symptoms, diarrhea, and more.
The best thing to do is seek treatment. The longer you wait the more damage alcohol abuse causes. Do not feel guilty or ashamed seeking treatment. Help is available.