In American culture, the drinking of alcoholic beverages is not only perceived as normal, but is also glorified for many different reasons. Some of these reasons include relaxation after a stressful event or day, socialization, or celebrating something. Consuming alcohol responsibly does not indicate a drinking problem. There are plenty of drinkers who are not alcoholics and who do not have a substance abuse disorder.
However, excessive drinking, using alcohol as a means of coping with life’s problems, or being unable to control how much is consumed are all signs of developing alcoholism. If you find yourself self-medicating with alcohol, feeling dependent on alcohol, experiencing a decline in health due to alcohol, or especially if drinking is interfering with your life’s balance, it’s definitely time to assess whether or not you have or are developing alcoholism.
The week of January 22nd through January 28th was the ninth annual National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week, also known as NDAFW. During this week, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) “links students with scientists and other experts to counteract the myths about drugs and alcohol that teens get from the internet, social media, TV, movies, music, or from friends,” according to the website. More on this later.
According to the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, (NIAAA), approximately 56% of Americans over the age of eighteen drink alcohol at least once a month. That’s about 135 million of us who are drinkers. About 33 million of these drinkers are alcoholics. About 88,000 US citizens die every year due to alcohol-related causes. Alcohol is the third most prevalent cause of preventable death in the country, behind only tobacco and lack of diet/exercise.
So obviously, alcohol is dangerous stuff. However, it’s legal for everyone 21 years of age or older, and it’s just about everywhere in the nation. Therefore it’s extremely important to recognize the differences between responsible drinking and problematic drinking, and also to raise awareness of the dangers of alcohol. We’ll discuss this and NDAFW, also touching on the drug abuse prevention aspect, although this article is focused more on alcoholism.
Responsible Drinking VS Problematic Drinking
According to the NIAAA, which is the foremost authority on all things alcohol-related, one standard drink is defined as one of the following
- One 12 oz. glass of beer that is 5% ABV (alcohol by volume)
- One 8 oz. glass of malt liquor that is 7% ABV
- One 5 oz. glass of wine that is 12% ABV
- One 1.5 oz. shot of hard liquor that is 40% ABV
Bear in mind that with the surge in popularity of craft breweries, many beers available on the market have an ABV much higher than five percent, sometimes as high as 12 percent. Factor this in if and when you are determining how many drinks you have, which is responsible.
In fact, the NIAAA defines responsible drinking as no more than four drinks per day for men, and no more than three per day for women. The reason for this difference is that the female body metabolizes alcohol a tad slower than the male body does. Responsible drinking for men means no more than 14 drinks per week and for women means no more than seven per week. There is no responsible drinking for anyone aged 20 or under, nor is there for anyone with a health condition that could worsen with alcohol consumption.
Five Types of Drinkers
In general, there are five types of drinkers, excluding the non-drinker who never has a drop. They are:
A male moderate drinker, according to the NIAAA, would consume no more than two drinks per day. Female moderate drinkers consume no more than one drink per day. Those who call themselves ‘holiday drinkers’ and only drink a few times per year also fall under this category.
This is the same as responsible drinking. (See above for drink counts). Being a low-risk drinker is a minor warning sign of alcoholism. This is because it only takes just a few more drinks in order to qualify for the next level, binge drinking, which is a large issue in this country. Many folks believe themselves to be low-risk drinkers, but are in fact binge drinkers. As you read the next section, bear this in mind alongside your own drinking habits.
In order to qualify as binge drinking, an individual must be legally drunk and reach a blood alcohol content of .08 grams per deciliter. There is slightly less than half a cup in one deciliter, whereas there are nearly 115 grams in half a cup. The point is that it honestly doesn’t take much in order to binge drink. For males, this means five or more drinks in one sitting and four for females. This must happen once a month or so. That rare someone who drinks a six-pack in two hours, but only every Christmas, is not a binge drinker, for instance.
If you binge drink five times or more per month, consider yourself a heavy drinker. This means you get drunk, not just drink more than once a week, on average. If every Friday you find yourself drunk at the bar with your friends, and then on top of that you find yourself drinking a few times in between, you are a heavy drinker. This is a major warning sign of alcoholism. Drinking to excess this often is essentially training for alcoholism. If a heavy drinker does not either cut back or stop, chances are an alcohol addiction will develop.
Here’s the big one, and the hardest to define, believe it or not. There is no drink-count associated with alcoholism. Once addicted to alcohol, the brain needs it in order to function, but not healthily… to function on an impaired, addicted level. Essentially, an alcoholic needs to drink in order to feel normal. However, what has become ‘normal’ for an alcoholic is in reality abnormal.
Excess amounts of neurotransmitters and endorphins are released in the brain each time someone drinks alcohol. Over time, this can cause a long list of potential health issues. Also, the brain becomes used to this excess amount of chemicals, and begins to adapt. Eventually, once someone is an alcoholic, they will not feel overall balance until they are drinking. This is the addiction.
Begun in 2010 by NIDA scientists, the aim of National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week is to educate the American youth on what science knows about substance abuse and/or addiction. The NDAFW trademark phrase is “Shatter the Myths,” and the idea is just that: to dispel any and all myths/false information that children may have about drugs and alcohol.
Any organization or school can register for a NDAFW event, through their website. Scientists and health experts come together to talk and answer questions related to addiction. There are toolkits available, a popular booklet titled Shatter the Myths, and even what’s called the National Drug and Alcohol IQ Test.
Events are meant to be engaging, interactive, and most of all educational. Sponsors of the event include the White House and the DEA, so you can rest assured it’s one of the best substance abuse awareness campaigns in the world. During this year’s week, a total of 2,320 events were held, an average of over 330 per day. That’s quite the reach!
More than Alcohol
In choosing a NDAFW event, there are multiple options. The regular event covers all grounds. However so many more specific events are able to be registered for, including ones specifically catered to: alcohol, college-aged persons, juvenile justice, marijuana, MDMA, synthetic drugs, opioids & prescription drugs, tobacco, and something called a video event, which, according to the website, “includes a teen-friendly video showing parts of the brain and their functions.”
As noted, alcohol kills approximately 88,000 people every year in the US. Although that’s a whole lot of people, the number skyrockets up when you talk about tobacco products. They end nearly half a million lives in America every year. Drug overdoses kill nearly as many people as alcohol does, with a total of about 65,000 per year. The majority of fatal drug overdoses involve opioids.
Now, add all of this together, and the brain seriously starts to have a hard time comprehending. Tobacco, alcohol, and all other drugs of abuse combined are, in the US alone, responsible for approximately 650,000 deaths annually. That’s 1,780 people every day. To put it another way, tobacco, alcohol & drugs kill as many people as heart disease does, which is the single leading cause of death in the US.
You’ve likely heard that we’re currently amidst an opioid crisis, and we are indeed. That is however not the full picture. We are amidst a substance abuse crisis, and it includes every single drug you can think of, from nicotine to heroin.
Cigarettes are everywhere. Cigars are status symbols. Now, e-cigarettes and vaping are extremely popular, the health risks of which have not even yet fully been determined. Alcohol is virtually everywhere in the country. Nearly every home has one or more bottles of wine, beer or liquor. Nearly every store sells it. Nearly every party is accompanied by it. Alcohol creates the most peer pressure of all substances, and the pressure to participate does not fade with age. Going out after work? It’s likely you’ll hit the bar, or at least a restaurant that serves…
There are millions and millions of opioid painkiller prescriptions written every year – enough to supply each and every American adult with his or her own bottle. Nine out of ten heroin addicts say they began with pills. Now that heroin is at its peak of popularity, it’s easy enough to trace the steps as to how it got that way. Meth is still an epidemic, especially in the American southwest, and with a recent surge in music festival popularity, psychedelic drugs are becoming more and more prevalent as well.
Perhaps the scariest notion in the entire realm of substance abuse is that of the synthetic drug. Substances such as fentanyl and carfentanil, which are 50 to 500 times stronger than heroin respectively, are being laced into several different drugs, mainly heroin. Single grains of these potent substances can end a full grown human being’s life. Every time someone purchases some heroin, or some other opioid, they are gambling with life itself.
Until the time we can stop addiction altogether, our best bet is educating the youth. Over 75% of substance addictions begin before the age of 25. If we can manage to get our youth to say no to drugs, the tradition will continue and eventually we can beat the crisis.
This is why we are so glad for programs like the National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week, which strive to create a sober generation and continue that sobriety for many more generations to come.