Editorial Team

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MODULE 2:

2 What are the Dangers of Alcohol Addiction?

Apart from alcohol use disorder (AUD), if someone engages in excessive alcohol consumption, eg. from either binge drinking or heavy drinking or both, there is a significantly increased likelihood of a wide range of specific dangers for the individual, including the development of other chronic diseases, accidental injury or death, an increased risk of violence, medical conditions specific to pregnant women, divorce and family breakups, and unemployment.

1. Binge Drinking & Heavy Drinking Explained

  • Binge Drinking: Defined as alcohol consumption that brings the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to 0.08% or more, binge drinking normally corresponds to 5 or more drinks in one episode for men, or 4 or more drinks in one episode for women, generally within the space of 2 hours.
  • Heavy Drinking: For men, heavy drinking is defined as consuming 15 drinks or more per week, and for women, heavy drinking is defined as consuming 8 drinks or more per week.

In addition to these, the NIAAA have recently introduced a new category of alcohol misuse1:

  • High-Intensity Drinking: This new category of alcohol misuse is defined as “consuming alcohol at levels that are 2 or more times the gender-specific binge drinking thresholds.” To put this in a more practical way, using men as an example, high-intensity drinking would equate to 4 drinks, as opposed to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans2 guide of just 2). Here’s why:
    • People who engage in high-intensity drinking were 70 times more likely to have an alcohol-related emergency / ED visit, increasing to 93 times more likely if 3 times the gender-specific limit were consumed.

2. What are the Potential Health Dangers of Alcohol Abuse?

Even in the short-term, alcohol abuse can still have a damaging impact on both your physical and mental health, increasing the risk of many harmful medical conditions. Oftentimes caused by binge drinking, these can include:

  • Physical injury, e. automobile accidents, falls, burns, and drownings
  • Violence, such as homicide, suicide, sexual assault, eg. rape, and intimate partner violence
  • Alcohol poisoning – an exceptionally high level of blood alcohol concentration (BAC), resulting in a medical emergency
  • Risky sexual behavior, eg. unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners, possibly resulting in unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV
  • Among pregnant women, the danger of miscarriage and stillbirth or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder 3 (FASD), resulting in phsical problems and issues with behavior and learning for the child

In the long-term, if the high level of alcohol consumption continues, this can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious health problems, which can include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Alcohol use disorder (AUD)
  • Alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD), such as:
    • Fatty liver
    • Alcoholic hepatitis, and
    • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Digestive problems
  • Weakened immune system, increasing the chances of infection
  • Cancer: breast, mouth, larynx, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon
  • Learning and memory problems
  • Dementia
  • Mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety
  • Social problems, including family and relationship issues, unemployment, and legal issues

3. What is the Social Cost of Alcohol Abuse?

The social costs that can be suffered by someone with alcohol abuse issues or diagnosed AUD cover many aspects of their interactions in daily life – from the most important, their family (predominantly, their spouses and partners, and their children), to their friends and their social circle, and even those within their community. Furthermore, in the case of a DUI, for example, it can even mean the loss of liberty.

Family Relationships

  • Spouses & Partners: The vast majority of spouses and partners are the very first to notice if their loved one is struggling with their alcohol misuse – unless, of course, they are moderate drinkers themselves, or more, too. In fact, it’s common for couples to drink together – a study by the University of Buffalo’s Clinical and Research Institute on Addiction 4  found that this is the case in around half of all couples.

However, if only one of the couple is drinking heavily, problems invariably arise more frequently. If left alone, the marriage or partnership can be severely affected; for example, by:

  • Unhappiness in the relationship
  • Worsening existing stressors, eg. financial issues or childcare responsibilities
  • Infidelity
  • Emotional or psychological abuse
  • Domestic violence / intimate partner violence
  • Separation
  • Divorce

According to a 2014 University of Michigan study,5 researchers found that nearly half (or 50%) of their 17,000-person study group with a history of AUD got divorced at some point in their lives, whereas only 30% of those not affected by alcohol abuse got a divorce.

  • Children: Sadly, children are not spared this severe emotional distress. According to a 2017 study, more than 10% of U.S. children live with a parent who has AUD.6 Additionally, many research studies have found that the children of those with AUD, known as “Adult Children of Alcoholics” (ACOC), can be negatively impacted by a parent’s alcohol abuse in many fundamental ways as they grow and progress through their own lives.

Common problems for these “adult children” can include:

  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of self-esteem
  • Issues sustaining intimate or personal relationships
  • Increased risk of alcohol abuse / AUD, or other substance use disorder (SUD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Friendships

The reaction of a person’s friends, whether close or otherwise, is usually dependent upon the specific friend’s view of “alcoholics,” meaning it can vary from either fully and 100% supportive right through to a shaming and stigmatized viewpoint, where the issue is viewed as a “fault” of the person, eg. because of “a lack of willpower” – regardless of how inaccurate such a statement is. An example of this would be that once good friends will now view the person differently, such as untrustworthy or in another negative way.

Legal Issues

People with AUD are at more risk of legal issues because of their inability to control their behavior while intoxicated. A prime example of this is the criminal charge of drunk driving, either driving under the influence – DUI, or driving while intoxicated or impaired – DWI. These charges can obviously be worsened by both injuries to others or actual fatalities.

4. What is the Financial Cost of Alcohol Abuse?

The financial costs of abusing alcohol are not limited in any way by the actual cost of the alcohol consumed, as alcohol abuse can lead to:

  • Loss of Employment
  • Loss of Family Home
  • Divorce Courts / Child Custody
  • Other Legal Issues
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References:

  • 1 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Addiction (NIAAA). Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder. April, 2021. Available at NIAAA.NIH.gov.
  • 2 U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.: Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). April, 2021. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov/.
  • 3 Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. 2021. Available at CDC.gov.
  • 4 Clinical and Research Institute on Addiction, University of Buffalo. RIA Reaching Others: Does Drinking Affect Marriage? October, 2014. Available at Buffalo.edu/.
  • 5 Journal of Studies on Alcohol & Drugs. DSM-IV Alcohol Dependence and Marital Dissolution: Evidence From the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. May, 2014. Available at JSAD.com/.
  • 6 Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (CBHSQ), Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Children Living with Parents Who Have a Substance Use Disorder. August, 2017. Available at SAMHSA.gov/.

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