Alcohol is the second most popular drug in the world, ranking second only to caffeine, and is the most abused drug in the United States. More than half of the U.S. population considers themselves drinkers, and nearly half of those people binge drink at least on occasion. This ubiquitous nature of drinking and its place in Western culture are significant factors in its ability to plague more than 16 million American adults and nearly 1 million adolescents with an alcohol use disorder. More than 10% of U.S. children live in a household with a parent who struggles with an alcohol abuse problem; this may not come as a surprise considering, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, that 30% of American adults have at some point in their lives met the criteria for alcohol abuse. It is more critical than ever to understand the effects of alcohol and the inherent risks of its consumption.
Short-Term Effects of Alcohol Consumption
Though alcohol can produce some desirable effects for some people at the right dosage, there are also many negative effects. Some of the most common short-term negative effects are:
- Reduced inhibitions and impaired judgment
- Slowed reflexes
- Impaired memory and comprehension
- Difficulty in speaking, walking, and other motor skills
- Blurred vision and impairment or distortion of the senses
- Dizziness and/or vomiting
- Body pains, retrograde amnesia, headache/sensitivity to light, nausea, and vomiting often present themselves in the form of a hangover in the hours to days following an episode of binge drinking.
Each of these effects have the potential to be life-threatening. Reduced inhibitions greatly increase the chance of engaging in high-risk behavior, and when combined with impaired coordination and motor skills those risks are heightened significantly.
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Consumption
Years of alcohol abuse can shorten lifespan and substantially decrease quality of life. Continual patterns of abuse can lead to:
- Liver disease
- Chronic brain damage caused by thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency
- Reduced brain mass
- Heart problems
- Nerve damage
- Reduced fertility in both men and women
Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Fortunately there are many treatment options for those struggling with alcohol addiction. The needs of the individual and the severity of the addiction will determine whether inpatient or outpatient treatment is more suitable. Severe cases will often be recommended inpatient treatment, in which the patient stays 24/7 at the facility. Inpatient care is necessary when dependence on alcohol is high and the patient is at risk of medical complications due to withdrawal. Outpatient treatment is another option that usually includes types of family and individual counseling along with support networks and educational programs. Outpatient care is ideal for those who prefer to continue working or going to school while getting the help they need.