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Alcohol Use vs. Alcohol Abuse

Apr 28, 2017

Humans historically have had an interesting and varied relationship with alcohol throughout time.

Some resources report that an estimated 18 million people abuse alcohol in the United States. Alcohol, a very powerful psychoactive drug classified as a depressant, can have an extreme effect on the brain and the central nervous system. When consumed in mild to moderate amounts, it can affect an individual’s judgement, motor skills, behavior, decision making and even thoughts and mood.

A question repeatedly asked is:  When is using alcohol not recommended or should not be consumed at all?  This question can be answered simply given these seven recommendations.

Certainly, anyone should avoid any alcohol consumption for the following reasons:

  1. Women who are pregnant or are attempting to become pregnant.
  2. Anyone driving an automobile, heavy equipment, boat or operating any type of power tool.
  3. Anyone taking any medications which alcohol potentially could interfere with the pharmacological process or when consumed together create a potential health hazard.
  4. Drinking alcohol could impend or worsen an individual’s health due to a serious health problem.
  5. Individuals who have a history of alcoholism or drug addiction.
  6. Individual who have a history of alcohol abuse and rarely have only a single drink.
  7. Anyone using alcohol to cope with grief or loss, disappointment or as a stress management tool.

A second question is what amount of alcohol generally is considered social drinking?  A social drinker only drinks occasionally, has no problems due to use of alcohol, does not drink to “feel good” or to have a good time.

Another question commonly asked is how much alcohol consumption is abusive drinking?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that their definition of low risk drinking for men is no more than four drinks on a single day and no more than 14 drinks per week. For women, no more than three drinks on a single day and no more than seven drinks in a single week.

Low risk drinking is considered drinking at a level which is not at risk for alcoholism.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) defines binge drinking levels at five or more alcoholic drinks on the same occasion for males and four or more alcoholic drinks for women.

SAMHSA defines heavy drinking as binge drinking for five or more days a month.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines moderate drinking levels as two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.

For the majority of people, using alcohol is not a problem. However, for others, it tends to produce mild to moderate to severe family, social, health, financial, legal, occupational or personal problems.

Help and treatment is available. AA and Celebrate Recovery support groups are excellent avenues for the alcoholic or moderate to heavy drinker to begin to receive help, and these support groups are free. AL-Anon and Co-Dependent-No-More (CODA) support groups are available for family members and friends of alcoholics and those who continue to abuse alcohol in spite of the problems their drinking creates over and over. Family and friends often pay a heavy price for someone else’s addiction.

To conclude, alcohol if used has to be respected and monitored. Every alcoholic began as a social drinker. Use of alcohol has its place in human cultures. Abuse of it always has a cost for the individual, family and society.

If you think you may have a drinking problem, have a very honest discussion with your healthcare provider, read further about abusive drinking and be truthful with yourself and with your family. Listen to friends and family members without becoming defensive. They will often see a drinking problem before you see it yourself.

For more information, read more on this topic in the St. Bernards Health Library or call St. Bernards Counseling Center at 870-930-9090.

Blog post written by Bill Smith, MSSW, LCSW, from the St. Bernards Counseling Center.