Birthday parties, football games, family reunions, barbecues, brunch, dinner, after dinner, happy hour, after parties, afternoons, evenings out with friends, evenings at home, vacation, Taco Tuesday… All of these are times when it might be considered appropriate to have an alcoholic beverage in your hand. The problem is that there’s a “reason to drink” at almost every moment of every day. Turning to alcohol whenever you want to celebrate, enjoy the company of others, or simply relax adds up fast, and it’s no wonder so many of us struggle with unhealthy drinking habits.
For some of us, it’s more than just making better decisions about when and how much to drink. It’s become an addiction, an absolute necessity in our daily lives. No matter how negative the impact on our health, relationships, and quality of life, alcoholism keeps us reaching for that next drink over and over.
Alcohol and Health
What is alcoholism, and how can it affect a person's health? Alcoholism, or in medical terms, Alcohol Use Disorder, is when a person has formed a mental or chemical dependence on alcohol that results in negative consequences to your life. For some this might mean that they pour their first drink as soon as they wake up in the morning, never missing a day. For others it could be binge drinking.
Binge drinking is when you consume more than the recommended number of drinks per day, and for those of you who are thinking, “I don’t have a problem because I only drink on the weekends,” think again. Drinking constantly or daily is not necessarily required for an alcohol use disorder diagnosis and can still have serious consequences for your health.
The list of unhealthy physical effects of alcoholism is long:
- Alcohol poisoning
- STIs or unplanned pregnancies from unprotected sex
- Increased risks of developing liver diseases like cirrhosis and fatty liver disease
- Increased risk of stroke
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Increased risk of pancreatitis
- Weight gain due to excess caloric intake, or weight loss due to neglect of eating in favor of drinking.
- A weakened immune system results in other health problems
- Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression
- Stunted brain development resulting in memory & learning problems
- Injuries and accidents that occur due to impaired judgment, vision, and motor skills
- Increased risk of breast, mouth, liver, colon, and throat cancer
And that’s not all! Excessive drinking also complicates or exaggerates most, if not all, pre-existing health problems. While moderate drinking doesn’t seem to have a big impact on an otherwise healthy person, it’s definitely important to keep an eye on your drinking habits if you want your body in tip-top shape.
Alcohol and Relationships
It makes sense that excessive drinking impacts our physical health, but how does alcoholism impact people’s relationships? Most people who drink are doing it to “feel better,” and yet the mental and emotional impairment it causes is known to result in relationship troubles when it gets out of control.
Ways alcoholism interferes with healthy relationships:
- An impaired judgment could lead the drinker to do or say things that are hurtful to others. It could also cause them to ignore obvious priorities like hygiene, sleep, or financial responsibilities, all of which could eventually drive a wedge between them and any friends, family, or coworkers.
- Alcoholism has been connected to domestic violence because excessive alcohol consumption can lead to violent and aggressive behavior.
- Finances can also be impacted by alcoholism, as the drinker may spend family resources to access more alcohol, gamble in order to get money for alcohol, or struggle to stay employed due to alcohol.
If it’s not used responsibly, alcohol ruins relationships. It’s that simple. If you’ve noticed that some of your relationships would be better if it weren’t for alcohol, it’s time to consider a change.
Alcohol and Career
Alcohol can also affect your job and career. Are you late or calling out sick frequently due to hangovers? Are showing up for work buzzed, or even drinking on the job? Are you missing out on opportunities that you’d qualify for if your mind were more clear? It’s common for alcoholism to result in unemployment and even homelessness if it goes untreated.
How to Know If You Have a Problem With Alcohol
Get familiar with the signs and symptoms of alcoholism and reflect. Ask yourself these questions:
- Has drinking alcohol had a negative impact on any of my relationships?
- Have I done things I regret because of drinking alcohol? Or engaged in “high-risk behaviors”?
- Binge drinking
- Driving under the influence
- Drinking while caring for children
- Having unsafe sex
- Has drinking alcohol had a negative impact on my performance at school?
- Has drinking alcohol had a negative impact on my performance at work?
- Has drinking alcohol had a negative impact on my finances?
- Am I able to go for any considerable amount of time without thinking about drinking or wanting to drink alcohol?
- Am I drinking alcohol every day?
- Have I “blacked out" due to alcohol use?
- Do I ever hide my drinking from others?
Based on your answers to these questions, do you honestly feel that your relationship with alcohol is a healthy one?
If you’re not sure whether your drinking is a problem, it’s a good idea to try taking a break from it to see how that goes. Some folks do this regularly with fads like “Dry January,” but you don’t necessarily have to do it for a whole month. Think of some ways that you, your friends, and your family could have fun without alcohol and give sobriety a shot. You may be surprised about how much you don’t miss it!
What to Do About Alcoholism
If you are worried that your or someone else’s alcohol consumption has become a problem, there are a number of things you can do.
Talk to someone. Seek the advice of a licensed mental health professional to determine what kind of support you need at this time. They can recommend a direction for you to take, whether that be joining a support group, getting medical attention, or making lifestyle changes. Get social support as well. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or simply confiding in trusted friends and family can significantly decrease your feelings of shame and loneliness.
You are never alone in this situation, whether you’re an alcoholic or you’re close to someone with alcoholism. Don’t hesitate to reach out for the support available to you–it could be the difference between life and death, and it could help find joy that you didn’t believe possible.
A Note About Underage Drinking
If you’re under the age of 21 and live in the United States, you shouldn’t be drinking for a few reasons.
1. You, your friends, and whoever helped you access the alcohol in the first place could get in a lot of legal trouble if you’re caught. It’s not worth it.
2. Is “having a little fun” really worth an STI, a car accident, or a hospital visit that could change the course of your life? Wait until you’re 21. There will be plenty of time to drink then.
3. Your brain is quite literally still developing. Pumping alcohol into your system now could permanently impact how one of your most vital organs finishes growing, and not in a good way.
Alcohol Use Disorder and Your Faith
First and foremost, it’s vital to remember the difference between guilt and shame. You may feel guilty about your alcohol use, but your alcohol use does not make you a bad person or any less worthy of love, acceptance, and help than others.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with alcohol. Even Jesus believed in having wine at weddings! The issue comes in when you’re depending upon alcohol to feel good, instead of facing life’s challenges in an emotionally healthy way. When you are feeling ashamed of your alcoholism, rather than turning to a drink or beating yourself up, remember how deeply you are loved. Jesus’ message is one of abundant life and joy, not shame.