Chronic Heavy Drinking

Chronic Heavy Drinking

Alcohol use disorder affects nearly 29 million American adults, according to data from SAMSHA. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 178,000 deaths in the U.S. each year are related to excessive alcohol use. Read on to learn about the effects of chronic heavy drinking on a person’s health.

Chronic Heavy Drinking Defined

Let’s start off by defining what is meant by the term “chronic heavy drinking.” The word “chronic” refers to ongoing daily use of alcohol over an extended period of time. The phrase “heavy drinking” refers to alcohol consumption that exceeds what is considered safe levels.

The CDC established guidelines for alcohol consumption to help guide our decisions regarding our drinking habits. Here is what the CDC has determined are safe levels of alcohol consumption:

  • For women, one drink per day, and for men, two drinks per day is considered safe.
  • Excessive drinking for women is eight or more drinks in a week, and for men fifteen or more drinks in a week.
  • Binge drinking is considered four or more drinks in a single session for women and five or more drinks in a single session for men.

Signs You Have a Drinking Problem

When discerning whether you have a drinking problem, it helps to review the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder. Eleven signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder include:

  1. Not being able to stop once you start drinking.
  2. Spending a lot of time planning to drink, drinking, and recovering from drinking.
  3. Attempting to stop or cut back on drinking but were not able to.
  4. Experiencing strong alcohol cravings.
  5. Finding that your drinking interferes with daily obligations and relationships.
  6. Continuing to drink, despite adverse consequences.
  7. Giving up activities so you can drink.
  8. Engaging in high-risk behaviors while drinking.
  9. Continuing to drink even though it makes you feel sad, depressed, or results in memory blackouts.
  10. Drinking more alcohol as tolerance increases in order to experience the initial effects.
  11. Having withdrawal symptoms after the effects of alcohol wear off.

Heavy Drinking and the Stages of Alcoholism

Alcohol use disorder starts off as alcohol abuse, such as when young people engage in binge drinking. But ongoing chronic heavy drinking will take a toll in the long term as the disease of alcoholism takes root.

Alcoholism features three distinct stages that include:

Early Stage Alcoholism

Early stage or mild alcohol use disorder is diagnosed when two or three of the eleven symptoms are present. This stage features occasional binge drinking, usually involving young males. Although most will outgrow binge drinking, some will move onto the next level of alcohol use disorder.

Chronic Alcoholism

Chronic alcoholism or a moderate alcohol use disorder is diagnosed when 4 or 5 of the eleven symptoms are present. This stage features habitual alcohol consumption over a period of years. There might be a co-occurring psychological component, such as a mood disorder. Those in this stage often withdraw socially so they can drink alone. At this stage, negative consequences like a job loss, health issues, or relationship problems are common.

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End Stage Alcoholism

End stage alcoholism or severe alcohol use disorder is diagnosed when six or more of the symptoms are present, indicating both psychological and physical dependence. This stage features adverse health effects caused by the heavy drinking. These might include pancreatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, cognitive impairment, anemia, high blood pressure, dementia, or cancer. Suicidal thoughts or attempts are not uncommon at the end stage of alcoholism.

How Heavy Drinking Affects Health

Alcohol abuse can have many harmful effects in the short and long term. Chronic heavy drinking can result in violent acts, auto accidents, DUI arrests, injuries, and birth defects.

Long-term alcohol abuse is also associated with several serious health effects. These include:

  • Liver disease. Liver is the organ that metabolizes alcohol. Fatty liver is a common condition among those who drink excessively. Over time, chronic heavy drinking taxes the liver, which can then cause the scarring known as cirrhosis.
  • Heart damage. Long-term heavy drinking can lead to heart damage. Conditions caused by alcoholism include a-fib, cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, and heart failure.
  • Cancer. Chronic alcohol abuse increases the risk of developing cancers. The types of cancers associated with alcoholism are colon cancer, rectal cancer, esophageal cancer, oral cancer, and breast cancer.
  • Brain damage. Alcohol can cause profound brain damage, including shrinkage, cognitive impairment, dementia, and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
  • Damage to the pancreas. Alcoholism can cause exocrine pancreatic insufficiency and alcoholic pancreatitis.

Help for the Heavy Drinker

The good news is that alcohol use disorder is treatable. A recovery program provides the building blocks to starting a new sober life, and gives you the tools to succeed.

A treatment program consists of the following components:

  • Medical detox. The detox team closely monitors the withdrawal symptoms and vital signs, and provides medical interventions to help minimize discomforts.
  • Psychotherapy. CBT and DBT are helpful therapies for those struggling with alcoholism. These evidence-based therapies guide the person to make positive changes in their behavior patterns.
  • Education. Addiction education, learning new coping skills, and relapse prevention planning are covered in various classes and discussions.
  • Group therapy. Small group sessions provide a safe setting for peers in recovery to share openly about their thoughts and feelings.
  • Holistic therapy. Holistic activities such as with yoga, meditation, art therapy, and massage provide a deeper dimension to the treatment process.
  • 12-step program. Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program is often integrated into the rehab schedule.

Despite the heavy toll alcohol can take on your life, your health, and your relationships, you can restore health and wellness in sobriety. The body is amazingly resilient! With your commitment to the recovery process and embracing a sober lifestyle, much of the damage can be reversed. Isn’t it time to take back your life?

Capo by the Sea Help for Chronic Heavy Drinkers

Capo by the Sea is a luxury rehab program offering comprehensive treatment for alcohol use disorder. If you have been stuck in a cycle of chronic heavy drinking, reach out to us today at (888) 529-2114.