April is alcohol awareness month, and we use this month to focus on the health risks associated with drinking and the different triggers that prompt one to drink. We also highlight how to support someone you love who suffers from alcohol disorder and where to go for help.
Alcohol is the most used addictive substance in the United States.1 In 2019, 14.5 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol use disorder.2 Unhealthy consumption includes any use that puts your or others’ health or safety at risk or causes other alcohol-related problems. Deciding to consume alcohol is a personal choice. People drink to celebrate, socialize and commiserate, and to alter their mood to feel more relaxed, confident, or courageous. These effects are just temporary, but repeatedly abusing alcohol has long term negative effects.
Health Risks with Drinking
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain works.3 These disruptions can change mood and behavior and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination. Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing cardiomyopathy, the stretching and drooping of heart muscle, irregular heartbeat, stroke, and high blood pressure.
Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver and can lead to steatosis, or fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, or cirrhosis. Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion. Increased risk of breast, liver, colorectal, and esophageal cancer have all been linked to alcohol consumption.4
Excess alcohol consumption can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to disease. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk. Excessive alcohol consumption can temporarily alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression, but the effects don’t last long and can make mental health problems worse.
Triggers to drinking5
The triggers to drink are different for everyone but they can be organized into a few different factors.
- Human triggers. This is when a specific person or group of people reminds you or encourages you to drink. This can be a friend, family member, coworker, or a team like softball or bowling.
- Social triggers. Many people drink due to social issues such as isolation from family or friends. Trouble with romantic relationships, children, or extended family can make drinking an attractive way to deal with stress.
- Environmental triggers. Sometimes a specific town, restaurant, or setting can trigger the urge to drink. This can be visiting your favorite hometown bar, your old college, or a specific date like St. Patrick’s Day or Super Bowl Sunday.
- Emotional triggers. This includes positive and negative emotions. When you feel sad, angry, or lonely you may turn to alcohol and likewise when you are overcome with happiness or positive thoughts. When we celebrate, we can lose track of our consumption and we can lose our power to say ‘no.’
How to Support Loved One
- If you have a friend or loved one that is struggling with alcohol abuse, there are a few things you can do that might help.
- Speak up and offer your support.
- Be sure to show your willingness to go with them to get help. The earlier addiction is treated the better.
- Express love and concern, as well as specific examples of behavior that you worry about but don’t wait for your loved one to hit rock bottom.
- Support recovery as an ongoing process. Even once your loved one is receiving treatment, it’s important to continue to show your support. It can help your loved one make long-term recovery possible.
Where to Get Help
Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional or contact organizations that provide help to people who may be consuming too much alcohol.
- Al-Anon Family Groups
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Training) Recovery
- Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)
Remember, you and your loved ones are not alone.
If you or a family member are struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues, your EAP or mental health provider might be able to help. Uprise Health offers comprehensive support at many levels for any member who is struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction or has a loved one who is.
Our digital EAP and mental health platform includes six skill-building courses that address alcohol and addiction:
- Get Started: Discover how to overcome your habits by understanding the reasons you use. This course includes introductory material and three exercises.
- Test Yourself: Practice your new decision-making skills. This course includes educational material and four exercises focused on self-testing.
- Getting Past Addicted Self: Work on getting past your addiction. This course includes four lessons and two exercises to learn about change, willingness, and control.
- Mindfulness Skills: Discover mindfulness skills that can help you grow. This course includes educational material and four exercises on observations, labeling thoughts, and letting go.
- Motivation: Learn important motivation skills and how to get help by working. This course includes educational materials and three exercises on denial, justification, and finding treatment.
- Staying on Track: Build a plan for how to keep your progress. This course includes educational material and four exercises on thoughts, values, and action.
Contact Uprise Health for support or learn more about the solutions we offer around sleep and mental health.