Death From Alcohol: How Knowing the Early Signs of Alcoholism Can Prevent Damage Before It’s Too Late
Alcohol is the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States, according to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis, which has estimated that each year roughly 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes.
That citation by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) is especially timely during the month of April and “Alcoholism Awareness Month,” when Beach House Center for Recovery is joining in a national annual effort to raise public awareness about the dangers of alcohol abuse and alcoholism. (For information on Alcoholism Awareness Month and its kick-off “Alcohol-Free Weekend,” March 31-April 2, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence has more details.)
The fact that alcohol is the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. means that greater awareness about the health risks of alcohol and early signs of alcoholism can indeed fend off alcohol-related damage before it’s too late. This article will educate readers on everything they need to know regarding the health dangers of alcohol, how to catch the early signs of alcoholism, and how early intervention and treatment can prevent the most damaging effects of alcohol and heavy drinking, starting as early as adolescence.
Health Dangers of Alcohol
The health dangers of alcohol signify a serious public health problem that claims the life of one in every ten Americans between the ages of 20 and 64, according to a fact sheet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Drinking too much, via heavy or binge drinking, is so harmful it can reduce your life span by as much as 30 years, the same CDC report estimated.
And studies suggest problem drinking habits often start early: roughly 20 percent of college students have symptoms of an alcohol use disorder, for example, according to the findings of the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. (The next section has information regarding what to look for regarding the early symptoms and signs of alcoholism and alcohol use disorder.)
What, then, are the health dangers of excess alcohol? For starters, alcohol is a known carcinogen, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That claim is validated by evidence from the National Cancer Institute that women who drink increase their chances of breast cancer.
Men are not immune to alcohol’s carcinogenic effects, either. Men who drink reportedly increase their chances of mouth, throat, esophagus, liver and color cancer; and if anything men may be more susceptible to alcohol’s lethal impact than women are, experiencing higher rates of alcohol-related deaths and hospitalization than women who drink.
Cancer is one of a number of alcohol-related health dangers that ultimately can prove fatal to those with drinking problems. Drinking too much significantly raises the chances of being injured or killed, with alcohol being a factor in:
- 60 percent of fatal burn injuries, drownings, and homicides
- 50 percent of severe trauma injuries and sexual assaults
- 40 percent of fatal motor vehicle crashes, suicides, and fatal falls
The NIAAA’s assessment of alcohol damage does not end here with a discussion of alcohol-related injuries that claim thousands of lives each year. Other health problems with high morbidity rates that are associated with heavy drinking include:
- Liver disease
- Heart disease
- Sleep disorders
- Stomach bleeding
- Sexually transmitted diseases from unsafe sex
- High blood pressure, diabetes and other chronic diseases
- Birth defects
- Alcohol use disorder
Knowing the Early Signs of Alcoholism
“Alcoholism” constitutes the later stages of an alcohol use disorder. At this later point in the progression of an alcohol use disorder, the mortality rates from liver, heart disease and other alcohol-related comorbidities are the highest. That makes knowing the early signs of alcoholism a critical step in preventative healthcare for anyone prone to alcohol abuse.
Early warning signs of alcoholism can include:
- Trouble managing one’s drinking despite a desire to reduce or quit one’s drinking
- Drinking at the expense of former friends, hobbies or interests
- Relationship problems with families, friends, colleagues, teachers, supervisors or classmates
- Indulging in other high-risk behaviors
- Going to extreme lengths to get alcohol
- Hiding alcohol or covering up alcohol-related injuries
- Spending a lot of time alone drinking
- A family history of substance abuse
- A high alcohol tolerance
- Poor personal hygiene and changes in physical appearance
- Continued use of alcohol despite negative consequences
How Early Intervention Can Prevent Alcohol Damage
The good news is that early intervention and treatment can go a long way to preventing, minimizing, and in some cases even reversing the physical damage of drinking. For instance, research has found certain interventions hold promise for identifying, treating and reducing teen alcohol abuse.
There is also evidence that certain effects of alcohol abuse — even some of the most severe, such as brain damage — can be reversed within a relatively short period of abstinence (as early as two weeks) following alcohol detox. (That research, published in the journal, Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, joins other promising findings highlighted in the article, “Can You Reverse Alcohol’s Effects on the Brain and Liver?”)
Such findings only drive home the point that death from alcohol is preventable and that alcohol abuse is a treatable and manageable condition.
If you have reason to believe that you or a loved one may have a drinking problem, this short quiz may help.