Jackie asked me how many drinks could her husband have in a day before she should worry. She says he drinks three or four beers in the evening on work nights and a lot more on weekends when he doesn’t have to go to work the next day. She thinks he may be a functioning alcoholic.
Kevin worries that his wife’s three or four glasses of wine in the evening could be the beginning of alcoholism. Alcoholism runs in her family.
Both Jackie and Kevin were quite surprised to find their partners’ consumption was well above what are considered low-risk drinking levels… I quote some information on safe alcohol consumption levels below. First, it would be good to name a few of the “risks” that go with drinking more than the Guidelines suggest as safe.
If you’re interested, I’ll write more about each of the risk areas in future articles.
What Risks come with drinking too much alcohol?
Too much alcohol directly causes a number of diseases. The one that comes to mind immediately is cirrhosis of the liver. It also contributes to a number of diseases, including some cancers. Many of the diseases lead to death.
The length of the list diseases with which alcohol can be associated surprised me.
Alcohol dependence (alcoholism) is the obvious mental disorder associated with alcohol consumption. Did you even realize alcoholism is classified as a mental disorder?
Marriage and family breakdown
Under the Alcoholism Test on this website, many of you have left heart-wrenching stories of what your partner’s alcohol abuse is doing to your marriage and your children. In fact, the fear of marriage breakdown is the single biggest area of comment. Assisting women in relationships with functioning alcoholic partners is a major part of my practice.
Unintentional Injury (Accidents)
The most obvious injuries that alcohol consumption causes or contributes to are those resulting from automobile accidents. Many of these are fatal.
About 30,000 Americans die from suicide every year and research shows that at least one third of those were abusing alcohol or were alcohol dependent (alcoholics). Alcoholics, about 7% of them, eventually die by committing suicide. Alcohol plays a big role in other intentional injury besides suicide, including spousal assault.
How much can I drink before I am at risk in one or more of these areas?
The Low Risk Drinking Guidelines define a standard drink as 5 oz. of wine, 1.5 oz of spirits or 12 oz. of beer. (Remember, coolers and some beers have more alcohol than a standard drink.)
Not drinking at all carries the lowest risk for an alcohol-related problem. The risk is not zero, however, because you could be killed by a drinking driver, as my mother was.
The guidelines for low-risk drinking set the limit at two standard drinks in any one day. They further set a weekly limit of 14 standard drinks for men and 9 for women.
To a former alcoholic these limits seem comically low, but the research suggests that the risks go up substantially if you drink more than the two drinks and 14 or 9 total for the week.
As low as these limits may seem, the Guidelines go on to say they only apply if you are physically and mentally healthy, are not on certain medications, have no family history of addiction or cancer, are not pregnant, are not playing sports and are not doing anything that requires alertness, like operating machinery. Otherwise, the risks go up with just one or two drinks.
If you read this and say to yourself, “I’m alright; I only have a couple of drinks after work,” beware.
Everyone, it seems, underestimates how much they drink. In surveys where people are asked how much they drink, their estimates account for only about one third of actual alcohol sales. The ‘forgetting,’ underestimating and denial is consistent, regardless of social status, age or sex. Something to think about?