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Alcohol Use Disorder - Am I at Risk?

January 8, 2024

By: Emily DeWalt, Prevention Specialist


The word “alcoholic” is often used to describe someone that abuses alcohol and suffers from alcohol dependence. A person abusing alcohol will drink in excess and continue to drink despite the legal, social or health problems the alcohol is causing. Alcohol dependence, on the other hand, is the physical need to continue drinking alcohol in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Many people who abuse alcohol are also dependent on it, but when high alcohol use appears to not affect an individual’s life in negative ways, we consider this person to be a “functioning alcoholic.” It’s likely that you’ve seen this type of alcoholism in TV shows or in movies, or you may even know someone dependent on alcohol in this way. Although the word “functioning” is used to describe this drinking problem, it could very likely be a temporary state and may spiral into the disorder known as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).



Unless totally abstinent from drinking alcohol, everyone is at risk for AUD but with some more vulnerable than others. Understanding the factors that could lead to an AUD can help someone make decisions about how they drink alcohol, or if they even choose to drink at all. One of the ways to assess your personal risk is by understanding your family’s history with alcohol use. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, a person’s risk of AUD increases if:


·         An alcoholic parent was depressed or had other psychological problems

·         Both parents abused alcohol and other drugs in the home

·         The parents’ alcohol abuse was severe

·         Conflicts lead to aggression and violence in the family


Genetics inherited by parents can also contribute to risk, but research suggests that genes and environmental factors play an equal role in the risk of someone developing AUD.


Studies show that children are 4x as likely to suffer from an AUD if their parents’ had the disorder, but there are many ways to reduce risk despite the family history. Abstaining from alcohol altogether is a foolproof way of avoiding AUD, but this can be a challenge when we live in a society that normalizes, and often applauds, alcohol use. A good place to start is by not drinking alcohol when under the legal drinking age (21 in the U.S.). It is known that introducing alcohol to the growing brain increases the likelihood of addiction, and this is true of any drug. As an adult, making a point to drink moderately (one drink a day for women, two drinks a day for men) will also help minimize your AUD risk. If your family has a history of AUD, it is important to speak with your healthcare provider about your risk. If you have already picked up a drinking habit, your provider can recommend organizations and support groups to help reduce your intake of alcohol in a safe manner.


Adolescents and young adults are susceptible to the pressures of underage drinking which could lead into an AUD. The non-profit Absolute Advocacy has reported common reasons that college students give for why it’s hard to say no to alcohol. First, college students claim that “everyone else is doing it.” The latest study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism claims that 80% of students drink, and of those students 50% binge drink. College sporting events, house parties, and nightclubs all entice college students to drink alcohol, even those that are underage. Another reason college students drink is because they had already been drinking before college. Peer pressure, the media, and even parents who allow their teens to drink in high school promotes underage drinking. College students also say the fact that “no one is there to stop them” is another reason they drink alcohol. A few studies published about alcohol policies on college campuses found that only 50% of the colleges surveyed take a proactive approach to enforcing these policies. The studies report that enforcement is often seen at college sporting events, but not at fraternity or sorority events. This inconsistency in alcohol policy enforcement clearly shows that there is room for improvement for student safety on college campuses.


Drinking before the legal age of 21 can lead to alcohol poisoning, unintentional injury or death due to DUI, violence, sexual assault, and ultimately, AUD later in life. Even if it seems like you’re the only one, choosing not to drink alcohol will benefit your life in the long run. When hanging out with friends that might be drinking alcohol, consider these tips:


·         Pour your own drink with something non-alcoholic

·         Avoid drinking games involving alcohol

·         Be confident saying “no” when offered alcohol

·         Suggest a different alcohol-free activity

·         If at a party, stick with trusted friends that support your decision not to drink


Stress is a major reason many turn to drinking alcohol. It is true that alcohol can give you an initial feeling of warmth and relaxation, but drinking too much can take a major toll on your body both physically and mentally. If you rely on alcohol as the main way to cope with stress, you are putting yourself at risk for developing an AUD. A better way to alleviate feelings of stress is through meditation and breathwork. Deliberately focusing your attention inwards can give you a sense of calm when meditating while deep breathing techniques shifts your body into a more relaxed state. Physical activity has also been proven to help manage stress, even if it’s just a walk or light stretching. Some people also find that music brings stress relief by listening to any genre of their choosing. Finally, a good night’s sleep helps improve the capacity to cope with stress. Sleep can be improved by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, as well as by avoiding caffeine, nicotine, and, of course, alcohol.




Thanks for reading! We look forward to sharing our blogs each week, and hope you’ve enjoyed this topic. Stay safe, and “bee” healthy. 😊



Sources

1.       Absolute Advocacy (2019). College Drinking: 3 Reasons It’s Hard For Underage College Students To Say No To Alcohol. Last viewed January 5, 2024. Available at: https://www.absoluteadvocacy.org/college-drinking-underage-no/

2.       Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (2024). FAMILY HISTORY OF ALCOHOLISM: ARE YOU AT RISK? Last viewed January 5, 2024. Available at: https://dmh.lacounty.gov/our-services/employment-education/education/alcohol-abuse-faq/family-history/

3.       National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (2021). Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM–IV and DSM–5. Last viewed January 5, 2024. Available at: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-use-disorder-comparison-between-dsm

4.       No More Wasted Days (2020). How to Socialize without Alcohol. Last viewed January 5, 2024. Available at: https://nomorewasteddays.co/how-i-socialize-without-alcohol/

5.       Psychology Today (2019). Top 10 Ways to Eliminate Stress Without Alcohol. Last viewed January 5, 2024. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/all-about-addiction/201904/top-10-ways-eliminate-stress-without-alcohol

 

Images

1.       Absolute Advocacy (2019). College Drinking: 3 Reasons It’s Hard For Underage College Students To Say No To Alcohol. Last viewed January 5, 2024. Available at: https://www.absoluteadvocacy.org/college-drinking-underage-no/

2.       The Guardian (2020). Abstract Image of Woman in Yoga Pose with Drink. Last viewed January 5, 2024. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/sep/30/sober-october-17-ways-to-unwind-after-a-stressful-day-without-hitting-the-booze

3.       Purdue University (2020). Abstract Image of Man Pouring Alcohol on Family Tree. Last viewed January 5, 2024. Available at: https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2020/Q1/alcoholism-in-the-family-affects-how-your-brain-switches-between-active-and-resting-states.html

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