Background on Alcohol Abuse

Although alcohol is a legal drug, addiction is a common problem and brings many social and psychological issues with it. Alcoholism can be divided into varying degrees of alcoholism based on the level of harm the alcohol is causing. Using these categories, it is possible to get help for alcoholics at earlier stages.

Note: For definition purposes the term "one drink" refers to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 90-proof liquor.

Experts categorize alcohol use into five categories.

Moderate Drinking

Moderate drinking - particularly red wine - appears to offer health benefits. It is defined as two drinks a day or fewer for men and one drink a day or fewer for women.

Hazardous (Heavy) Drinking

Hazardous drinking puts people at risk for adverse health effects. People who are heavy drinkers generally consume the following:

  • More than 14 drinks per week or 4-5 drinks at one sitting for men.
  • More than seven drinks per week or three drinks at one sitting for women.
  • Frequent intoxication in either men or women.

Harmful Drinking

Drinking is considered harmful when alcohol consumption has actually caused physical or psychological harm. This is determined by the following:

  • There is clear evidence that alcohol is responsible for harm to the person.
  • The nature of the harm can be identified.
  • Alcohol consumption has been persistent for at least a month and has occurred regularly for at least a year.
  • The person is not alcohol-dependent.

Alcohol Abuse

This is categorized by having one or more of the following alcohol related problems over a period of one year:

  • Failure to fulfill work or personal obligations.
  • Recurrent use in potentially dangerous situations.
  • Problems with the law.
  • Continued use despite harm being done in social or personal relationships.

Alcohol Dependence

People who are alcohol-dependent have three or more of the following alcohol related problems over a period of one year.

  • Increased amounts of alcohol needed to produce an effect.
  • Withdrawal symptoms, e.g. intense anxiety, shakiness, hot and cold flashes, and nausea.
  • Drinking more than intended.
  • Unsuccessful attempts to quit or cut down.
  • Giving up significant work or leisure activities.
  • Continued drinking in spite of knowledge of its harmful affects on self and others.

Alcohol addiction and drinking too much does not discriminate based on age, race, or circumstances. Alcohol addiction is a treatable disease, especially with the help of professionals, but the person seeking treatment must be willing to give it up entirely.

Problems Associated With Alcohol Consumption

  • Heavier consumption is associated with cancer, liver cirrhosis, stroke, and birth defects
  • Also linked to issues such as domestic violence, rape, assault, homicide, suicide, and lost productivity at work/school

Alcohol Poisoning

It can be particularly stressful if you are the sober one taking care of your drunk friend.

Some people laugh at the behavior of others who are drunk. Some think it's even funnier when they pass out. But there is nothing funny about puke causing suffocation, which can result in death.

Do you know what to do in the case of alcohol poisoning, and when should you seek professional help? Sadly enough, too many young people say they wish they would have sought medical treatment for a friend. Many end up feeling responsible for alcohol-related tragedies that could have easily been prevented.

Many people think that drinking black coffee, taking a cold bath or shower, sleeping it off, or walking it off are good ways to sober up, but these are just myths. Alcohol only leaves the body over time, but you may not have enough if someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning. Since many different factors affect how drunk someone is, it's tough to know exactly how much is too much.

What Happens to Your Body When You Get Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol shuts down nerves that control automatic actions such as breathing and the gag reflex (preventing choking). Too much alcohol will eventually stop these functions entirely.

You might know that someone who drank excessive alcohol will probably vomit. This is because alcohol is an irritant to the stomach. However, this creates a new danger of choking on vomit and suffocation because a person may not be alert to get enough air.

You should also know that a person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can continue to rise even while he or she is passed out. When a person stops drinking, alcohol in the stomach and intestine continues to enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body. Don't assume the person will be fine by sleeping it off.

Critical Signs for Alcohol Poisoning

  • Mental confusion, stupor, coma, or person cannot be roused.
  • Vomiting.
  • Seizures.
  • Slow breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute).
  • Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths).
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, paleness.

What Should I Do If I Suspect Someone Has Alcohol Poisoning?

  • Know the danger signals.
  • Do not wait for all symptoms to be present.
  • Be aware that a person who has passed out may die.
  • If there is any suspicion of an alcohol overdose, call 911 for help.

What Can Happen to Someone With Alcohol Poisoning That Goes Untreated?

  • Can choke on his or her own vomit.
  • Breathing slows, becomes irregular, or stops.
  • Heart beats irregularly or stops.
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature).
  • Hypoglycemia (too little blood sugar) leads to seizures.
  • Untreated severe dehydration from vomiting can cause seizures, permanent brain damage, or death.

Even if the victim lives, an alcohol overdose can lead to permanent brain damage. Rapid binge drinking (which often happens on a bet or a dare) is especially dangerous because the victim can ingest a fatal dose before becoming unconscious.

Don't be afraid to seek medical help for a friend who has had too much to drink. Don't worry that your friend may become angry or embarrassed - it could be a life or death situation.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Disability Resource Directory
College Drinking Prevention
Web MD