"The cost to society for alcohol consumption is enormous," says Dr. Calvin Martin, an Urgent Care physician at SIMED's First Care. "An estimated $746 per person per year is expended in the United States on healthcare, crime and making up for decreased productivity due to alcohol consumption."
April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Dr. Martin wants to increase awareness about what alcohol does to the body and mind, and how its lesser known consequences affect your wellbeing.
Alcohol is popular, because its effects start to be felt soon after drinking. Alcohol is primarily absorbed in the small intestine and rapidly enters the bloodstream. In short, it delays the signals that are sent between nerve cells.
Different alcoholic beverages contain different percentages of ethanol - the toxic part of alcohol that impairs functioning. As far as beverages go, the ethanol is the same chemical no matter the type of alcohol – be it wine, beer, clear liquor or dark liquor. The other ingredients in those beverages are what change the taste, calories and other qualities.
"Thirty percent of Americans have less than one drink per week," said Dr. Martin. "However, at the opposite end of the spectrum, ten percent of drinkers in America consume 74 drinks per week. That's not one or two people. That means there are quite a few people among us in our everyday lives that drink that much."
The average American consumes 552 drinks per year, which is a little over 1.5 drinks per day. Since 70% of all Americans consume alcohol, the other 30% are likely to be affected by the alcohol consumers.
But why are these numbers important?
Monitoring your consumption could very well save your life.
According to Dr. Martin "low amounts of alcohol consumption can be very beneficial."
Decreased risk of diabetes mellitus, blood clots and heart attacks is seen in regular consumers of low amounts of alcohol. Also, bone density increases, the "good" cholesterol – HDL – increases, and the "bad" cholesterol decreases.
On the contrary, high alcohol consumption rates can cause problems throughout the body, including cancer, anemia, heart failure, liver failure, kidney failure, gastritis, pancreatitis, increased risk of diabetes, and impaired brain functioning.
Alcohol consumption also limits your freedom:
- Injuries are much more likely to occur when impaired. Driving, power tools, heavy equipment, and anything that would be dangerous to use when your reaction time is delayed should be avoided whenever alcohol is consumed.
- Mixing some prescriptions with alcohol can enhance the effect of the alcohol and increase the side effects of the medicines.
- Alcohol lowers inhibitions, which increase the risks of trauma and sexual misadventures. Many unwanted pregnancies and STD's occur from alcohol enhanced encounters.
"You may think that your own consumption is normal or below average," said Martin. "The shocking truth is that half of all the alcohol consumed by adults is consumed during binge drinking."
Binge drinking is defined as whatever amount of alcohol intake gets you to the legal limit of being drunk.
Martin recommends downloading an application on your smart phone to track your consumption.
If you or someone you know is concerned about their alcohol consumption, ask the CAGE questions:
- Have you ever felt you should Cut down on your drinking?
- Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt bad or Guilty about your drinking?
- Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (Eye opener)?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, or if you have questions about your alcohol consumption, click here to request an appointment with a SIMED physician.