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Alcohol Use and Abuse

Abusing Alcohol: What Are the Effects?

Alcohol is a drug. As with any other drug, the effects of alcohol use depend on things such as how much is used and past experiences with alcohol. Even small amounts can impair judgment, coordination, and reaction time. Alcohol use can also increase the risk of household and work accidents (including falls and hip fractures), as well as car accidents.
Abusing alcohol for long periods of time can also cause:
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Certain cancers
  • Immune system disorders
  • Brain damage.
Alcohol can make some medical conditions difficult for healthcare providers to diagnose and treat. For example, alcohol can cause changes in the heart and blood vessels. These changes can dull a pain that might be a warning sign of a heart attack. Drinking can also make older people forgetful and confused. These symptoms could be mistaken for signs of Alzheimer's disease. In addition, drinking alcohol can affect blood sugar levels, which is especially important for people who have diabetes.
People who abuse alcohol may also be putting themselves at risk for serious conflicts with family, friends, and coworkers. The more heavily they drink, the greater the chance for trouble at home, at work, with friends, and even with strangers.

How to Know If Someone Is Abusing Alcohol

There are two patterns of drinking: early and late onset. Some people have been heavy drinkers for many years. However, over time, the same amount of alcohol packs a more powerful punch. Other people may develop a drinking problem later in life. Sometimes, this is a result of major life changes, such as shifts in employment, failing health, or the death of a friend or loved one. Often, these life changes can bring loneliness, boredom, anxiety, and depression. In fact, depression in older adults often goes along with alcohol misuse. At first, a drink seems to bring relief from stressful situations. Later on, drinking can start to cause problems.
Not everyone who drinks regularly has a drinking problem, and not all problem drinkers drink every day. You might consider seeking help if you:
  • Drink to calm your nerves, forget your worries, or reduce depression
  • Lie about (or try to hide) drinking habits
  • Gulp down drinks
  • Hurt yourself or someone else while drinking
  • Need more alcohol to get a "buzz"
  • Frequently have more than one drink a day
  • Feel irritable, resentful, or unreasonable when not drinking
  • Have medical, social, or financial worries caused by drinking.
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