April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Marking April as Alcohol Awareness Month began in 1987 with the goal of raising awareness that alcohol abuse is a disease, and, like many diseases, it is a public health concern that can, and should, be treated medically. Dr. Nicole Steinhardt, DNP-BC, Sheboygan Internal Medicine Associates explains, “Alcohol Use Disorder is an overall term for a cluster of disordered behaviors related to alcohol consumption. This includes alcoholism, binge drinking, and others. We should recognize that individuals with alcohol abuse issues have a medical condition and need help from a provider trained to treat addiction.” Some signs that an individual is suffering from an Alcohol Use Disorder are:
• Cravings for alcohol.
• Drinking during the day or in secret.
• Withdrawal symptoms when not drinking such as tremors, nausea, and sweating
• Continued drinking despite negative consequences for one’s family, relationships, or work.
• An inability to stop or reduce one’s drinking.
Dr. Steinhardt says, “In addition to being a serious disease in its own right, alcoholism and other alcohol use disorders are closely related to other health issues. Alcohol is a toxin and chronic, high levels of consumption are damaging to your cells.” You may know that the liver works to detoxify the alcohol, however, in the meantime, it will still travel throughout the body and affect all your body’s systems. “This is why alcohol consumption is a risk factor for many other diseases.”
Here are some of the major connections between alcohol abuse and other diseases:
• Liver disease – because the liver is burdened with detoxifying alcohol, abuse of alcohol is linked to many forms of liver disease.
• Digestive problems – heavy drinking can result in inflammation of the stomach lining, a depletion of vitamins, and other gastrointestinal issues.
• Heart problems – alcohol abuse is associated with high blood pressure, arrhythmias, heart failure, and stroke.
• Diabetes complications – alcohol interferes with the release of glucose from your liver and causes blood vessel damage.
• Alcohol use during pregnancy can cause birth defects, miscarriage, or fetal alcohol syndrome.
• Impaired bone health – chronic alcohol abuse can lead to thinning bones and increased risk of fractures.
• Damage to blood cells, and platelets resulting in circulatory issues.
• Neurological complications – such as nerve damage, dementia, and memory loss.
• Weakened immune system – increasing the risk of illnesses such as influenza and pneumonia.
• Increased cancer risk – long-term excessive alcohol use has been linked to a higher risk of mouth, throat, liver, colon, breast and other cancers.
The good news is that alcohol consumption is a modifiable disease risk factor. Dr. Steinhardt reminds us that, “Social stigma often stops individuals from talking about their alcohol abuse, even with their doctor. Recognizing that alcohol abuse is a disease can help lower the stigma a person may feel and open the door to a conversation about treatment.” In fact, Alcohol Awareness Month starts with an alcohol-free weekend that is designed to be a test. Those individuals who find it challenging to go 72 hours without drinking may benefit by contacting their doctor or an addiction treatment professional.