Alcohol is a drug, a medicine, an
antiseptic, a poison, and a solvent. It is flammable, boils at 172.4 degrees
(F), and dissolves in fat and water. It's a huge part of our culture: the
alcohol industry spends over $5 billion on advertising and promotion every
Is alcohol good or bad for you?
It is true that there are known health
benefits of consuming small or moderate quantities, but if you already have had
problems then think about the likelihood of developing a heavy drinking habit.
Heavy drinking is always unhealthy! Alcohol damages all of your organs. It is
the third leading cause of preventable deaths in the US, is a factor in over a
third of traffic deaths and half of boating deaths and drownings.
Do you have a problem?
You've probably already experienced some
negative effects of alcohol, directly or indirectly.
Here are some questions you can
often do you drink alcohol?
much alcohol do you drink when you are drinking?
you sometimes unable to stop drinking once you start?
you failed to do something that people expect of you – work,
relationship, friends, family – because you were drinking?
you had times that you couldn't remember what you did the night before after
you'd been drinking?
your drinking ever harmed you or someone else?
anyone mentioned that they are concerned about your drinking?
If your honest answers to any of these questions
worry you, it's time to think about changing your behavior.
Just the facts:
Beer is 4 -
6% alcohol, wine coolers are 5 - 6%, wine is 10 - 14%, fortified wines (sherry,
port) are 16 - 24%, distilled spirits are 40%, and a few distilled products are
up to 75% alcohol. A drink contains 100 - 150 calories, so heavy drinking can
replace a lot of your daily food intake, leading to poor nutrition, or add to
about 1 drink per 40 lbs. of body weight per hour to make your blood alcohol
0.08%, which is legally drunk in California. This is based on a standard drink
of 1 beer, 4 - 5 oz. of wine, or 1.25 - 1.5 oz. of hard liquor (heavy drinkers
typically increase the content of "1 drink" of hard liquor by 50 -
100%). You can get just as drunk on beer, wine, or spirits.
It is easier
to ingest alcohol if it is sweetened (the alcohol industry knows this,
marketing wine coolers and similar flavored stuff to young people).
It gets into
your bloodstream faster on an empty stomach or if the beverage is carbonated,
and more slowly if you eat dairy products or fatty foods beforehand. That
doesn't reduce the alcohol in the bloodstream, it just slows down how fast it
Men have more
of an enzyme that breaks down alcohol before it gets to the stomach, so it is
true that women are somewhat more affected by alcohol than men of equal weight.
metabolizes about 1 drink per hour, no matter how big you are. Once
the alcohol is in you there is nothing you can do to get it out of your body
faster. Caffeine may wake you up, but you're still drunk.
How much alcohol harms you?
First of all, the presence of ANY alcohol
in your system is illegal if you are under 21. (1) And a police officer can
arrest you for being legally drunk even below the legal limit if you are, in
the officer's opinion, impaired.
At 150 lbs., if you have three drinks in
two hours you may be legally drunk and would probably get a DUI.
At 100 lbs., two drinks in two hours.
At 200 lbs., four drinks in two hours.
No matter what you weigh, if you then drink
one drink per hour you will stay legally drunk. People aren't very safe drivers
when alcohol is leaving their bodies, even if they are 'legal', so your driving
may be impaired even when your blood alcohol level is below 0.08%.
Drinking hard liquor is especially risky,
because the amount in a 'drink' is often more than the standard measure. Adding
fruit juice makes it easier to swallow and drink faster, so wine coolers, mixed
drinks, and punch are especially risky.
As you drink, your ability to rationally
refuse more drinks diminishes. You are less and less able to make reasonable
decisions about your behavior—including drinking, drug use, sex, and
whether or not you can drive safely.
Blood alcohol of 0.5% is usually fatal.
Almost impossible to do with beer or wine, it is usually caused by rapidly
drinking hard liquor. But it can be done over the course of an evening of
taking shots, even alternated with 'soft' alcohol.
Half a liter of hard liquor (about 16 oz.)
can kill a 100 – 125# person.
A liter can kill a 200 - 250# person. Your body has a strong tendency
towards self-preservation, so you will likely vomit as you approach toxic
levels of alcohol. But smoking pot reduces the 'gag' factor. That was a factor
in the death of a college boy in Davis, California. He was celebrating his 21st
birthday, and did "21-for-21" after smoking pot. He consumed about 3/4 liter
over a few hours and died in the presence of the friends who had been
encouraging his drinking. So we can guess he weighed between 150 – 200 #.
Death can also be caused by choking on vomit while unconscious. If
you haven't vomited while still conscious, you are likely to pass out at about
0.3% blood alcohol, and if you end up on your back your life can be in danger.
Pushing someone who has passed out over onto his or her side or face can
prevent choking, but be careful--if they awaken while you are doing this they
may become very agitated or violent because of their drunken disorientation.
The long term effects of alcohol abuse
are serious. It damages virtually every organ in the
body, especially the liver and pancreas. It is linked to cancers, heart
disease, sexual problems, and suppresses the immune system. It makes it harder
to quit smoking, and people who are drunk often engage in other risky
behaviors. And the average cost of a first offense DWI, including fines, fees,
attorney costs, alcohol classes, increased insurance, and more, comes to
thousands of dollars!
Ok, that's enough of the scary stuff.
Here is a link that lists some of the many
negative consequences of heavy drinking: http://www.ncadd.org/facts/problems.html
Here's a complete tutorial about the
chemistry of alcohol: http://www.chemcases.com/alcohol/alc-01.htm
Here's an online test you can take to assess your
More information about drunk driving costs:
Here is a chart and some information about
drinking and driving: http://www.california-drunkdriving.org/levels/
Note that you can get a DUI for
blood-alcohol levels below 0.08% if your driving is impaired in the opinion of
Here is an online blood alcohol calculator:
Here's an article about the college student in
Davis who died of alcohol poisoning after a "21 for 21":
do some people develop an alcohol habit?
child whose parents are heavy drinkers OR who have always been abstinent is
much more likely to drink heavily than one whose parents drink moderately. A
boy whose father and grandfather drink heavily is many, many times more likely
to drink heavily--one statistic I have seen is 900 times more likely than other
this is due to genes or environment--or both--is a subject of debate. We do
tend to model our behavior on what we've seen growing up. If there's an
'alcohol culture' in your family, you may find it harder to change your
lifestyle than if you saw a lot of moderate drinkers and well-adjusted
non-drinkers when you were growing up. Planning for those family gatherings
where 'everybody' is drinking is a common topic on recovery forum boards. It
can be helpful to discuss these situations with others.
you have family members who are or were heavy drinkers? Does substance abuse
seem to 'run in your family'? It may seem that you're hard-wired for drinking.
But remember, you are not a statistic: you make choices. If you can recognize the consequences of
developing an alcohol habit, focus on the benefits of not drinking, and
practice for situations where you are likely to be offered alcohol or drugs,
those choices are easier.
We tend to go from using to abusing alcohol along
(regular, usually daily, drinking);
this is not an inevitable progression!
special concern to teenagers and young adults is 'binge drinking', which is
episodic heavy drinking, usually with intervals of abstinence (and remorse!).
It is common among college students, most of whom just grow out of it. But it
can be the start of habituation and chronic drinking.
people who are habituated to alcohol seem to function fine in their daily
lives, including people you love and respect. But when alcohol becomes an
important part of your daily life, or you have intentionally gotten drunk more
than once, it's time to take an honest look at your habit.
is happening in the body and brain when we develop an alcohol habit?
'benefits' of drinking are euphoria, a feeling of well-being, and – for
many of us – a temporary ability to forget about things that cause us to
be emotionally upset.
may gradually start to ignore or deny the negative consequences: hangovers,
loss of memory or blackouts, fights, self-harming behavior.
"neuroadaptation" is occurring where the brain tries to compensate for the
damage to normal functions that the alcohol causes as it disrupts our
neurotransmitters. With repeated use, it is harder for the brain to get back to
normal and we go through withdrawal when we quit. In fact, getting drunk, being
drunk, or being hungover begins to feel like "normal."
you an alcoholic? Is alcoholism a
chronic alcohol use as a disease was a major step forward in public acceptance
of new treatment methods. Previously alcohol abuse was viewed in moral terms,
with heavy class overtones in how it was dealt with. Lower class drunks were
thrown in jail; upper class people had "a drinking problem." The rise
of modern medicine, and the young field of psychology, changed the focus to the
medical consequences of heavy use. Understanding the brain chemistry of
substance abuse is still an emerging and very interesting area of science.
there is no broadly accepted definition of the term "alcoholism,"
so it can be a problem trying to define if you are one. To most people
it means chronic drinking, binge drinking, or any use of alcohol that has
significant social, personal, or health consequences. The label is not
important. It's your behavior that matters.
is when you understate your problem, or overstate your progress towards change.
Denial is not the same as "ambivalence," which is simply a mix of feelings
about whether change is necessary. Nearly everyone who decides to quit drinking
or using drugs is ambivalent about it, because the drugs provided some
benefits. Recognizing the harm they are doing may take some help from others,
since we are pretty good at rationalizing our behavior. But it's normal to be
ambivalent. Just don't let your mixed feelings paralyze you and keep you from
making healthy choices!
you quit drinking completely?
of the first things you're going to decide is about continuing to drink
'moderately' or at all.
people who have been heavy drinkers have a pretty loose definition of that
term. Moderate drinkers don't drink every day and don't drink to get drunk.
Moderate drinkers don't feel that alcohol is a necessary part of events or
activities. They don't obsess about it, plan in detail to have it around, or
miss it intensely if it's absent.
useful guidelines: a moderate female drinker drinks an average of one drink daily; a moderate male
drinker drinks two. They might not drink every day. A heavy drinker drinks more
than that, and usually drinks daily.
difficult to drink moderately after we've drunk heavily. Our brains and bodies
get accustomed to heavier doses. If we've been drinking heavily for a long
time, it's really easy to slip back into a pattern of daily heavy drinking if
we drink at all. One drink just reminds us of what we liked about it, and we
end up wanting more.
you'll probably find that abstinence is actually an easier commitment to make
than moderation. It's much easier to say, "I don't drink" than to say
"I only drink this much." What decision will you make? What is in
your best long term interest? Our choices about drinking and drug use often
involve choosing our long term interests over short term gratification.
and your brain: http://www.utexas.edu/research/asrec/drugs_m.html is just one web site with information on
drugs and neurotransmitters.
is "moderate drinking?" Moderation Management, a self-control group, defines
moderate use as follows: "For women: Do not drink more than 3 drinks on
any day, and no more than 9 drinks per week. For men: Do not drink more than 4
drinks on any day, and no more than 14 drinks per week." http://www.moderation.org/otherlim.shtml
perhaps most, people who have a drinking problem find it very difficult to
drink moderately. We tend to re-define "moderate" as "less than we drank last
do I do about my problem?
can consider a recovery group.
If you are drinking daily, or get drunk
intentionally every so often, or if drinking is interfering with your life in
any way, you may decide that you have a problem with alcohol and want to seek
help. All of the alcohol recovery groups believe that you should abstain from
drinking, but they take different approaches to how and why you should do so.
disease concept of alcohol use was combined with a strongly spiritual approach
to treatment in Alcoholics Anonymous.
is the oldest, largest and best-known recovery organization, and despite the
spiritual/religious basis it is heavily used in our legal system (this is
periodically challenged as a violation of church and state). A DUI is likely to
result in a sentence that includes mandatory AA meetings, and people aren't
likely to challenge that when jail time is the alternative.
is the original and best-known "12 Step" program. Interestingly, the disease
concept was not an original part of AA, mentioned only in passing in the 'Big
Book' that is their basic text. It is a program of rigorous spiritual change,
and AA members usually define alcoholism as a 'spiritual disease'. Much of the
quasi-medical disease stuff has been added on by modern recovery programs, which
involve intervention, rehab, lots of meetings. This is often reinforced by
repetition of the dire consequences of continuing to drink or do drugs.
Hazelden is one of the older 12 Step programs of this sort.
Step principles are that alcohol abuse is a disease that is invariably fatal,
that abstinence is the only cure, that you admit that you are powerless over
alcohol, you call upon a higher power for help in achieving abstinence, and
that you regularly attend meetings to get the support you need. One big
advantage: AA meetings are available just about everywhere.
recovery organizations reject the disease concept of alcohol use.
the 1970's, the limitations of 12 Step programs were becoming apparent to many
people. Although there have always been women in AA, as a group it was heavily
male—particularly the founders and the early members. In 1976 Women for
Sobriety was formed to provide a different approach which focuses more on
self-affirmation and emotional development.
There are two secular (nonreligious) groups based on cognitive behavioral science. Rational Recovery uses a technique where you learn to argue with your own 'addictive voice' and persuade yourself not to drink. SMART Recovery uses techniques where you learn better ways of coping with upsetting emotions, and learn to dispute your thinking patterns that lead to drinking. SMART, in particular, uses principles from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Rational Emotional Behavioral Therapy (REBT).
of these groups use a more scientific approach than AA. They work by helping
you choose not to use drugs by identifying the reasons and avoiding the
triggers to drinking/using. A
big difference is that you--not a higher power, not a group--are responsible
for your own recovery. Both programs have online information, and SMART
Recovery has an extensive schedule of online meetings.
people like the group meetings and peer support that AA provides, but don't
like the religious aspects. In spite of what AA members may say, it comes across
as a religious group: many meetings open and close with Christian prayers, and
there are lots of references to god. So two groups were formed primarily to
have secular (non-religious) meetings: SOS and LifeRing.
on the effectiveness of the different groups is hard to come by. Any
recovery group can be effective for people who have acknowledged that they have
a problem, are motivated to quit, and can accept the basic principles of the
organization. Anyone can
benefit from the support provided by other members of a group.
can try quitting on your own.
is an interesting fact that the majority of people who quit abusing alcohol
do so on their own, perhaps
demonstrating that it really is a matter of personal motivation and choice. They may seek support from family and
friends, but don't join any particular organization--they decide to quit and
"simply" stop drinking. George W. Bush is a good example: he says
that he drank too much wine one night, as he had at times in the past, and that
Laura Bush "gently" encouraged him to quit--so one day he did.
who belong to recovery groups will often find it hard to believe that people
can quit without a specific support group. They don't believe they can quit on
their own, and may not believe anybody can. The fact is, we vary in where we
find the power for change. Some people like groups, others value their
individualism. There's a simple quiz you can take to determine where your
'locus of control' is—that is, whether you are more likely to find the
power for change from within (internal locus) or from another source such as
god, church, a group, etc. (external locus). Here is one link to the quiz:
is not better or worse to have an external or internal locus! It just might be
a good predictor of how likely you are to find peer support or an organized
group's recovery structure useful.
choices and your future.
habits you take on in your late teen years become deeply engrained by the time
you are in your 20's. Seeking a high can become an end in itself, and can crowd
out other activities and interests.
you know people like that? Friends who are choosing to use drugs and alcohol
regularly, and who may also be making poor life decisions -- about
relationships, who they hang out with, about their futures?
can still like those people and care about them, but you probably can't help
them change the directions they are taking. You can certainly be there with
facts and support if they talk about it.
it may be necessary to avoid drinking/drugging friends when you quit, at least
for a while, and they may not like that. It's hard to stop being a drinker or
stoner when you're surrounded by that mentality. Successful sobriety involves
making some lifestyle changes, and changing who you hang out with may be one of
for those situations – what you're going to say and do – is really
crucial. Peer pressure is real and difficult to deal with. So think about doing what actors do: they
have scripts and they memorize their lines. Know what you're going to say when
someone urges you do drink or do drugs. It's amazing how often people get
stoned or drunk 'without meaning to' because they weren't ready for the
you're going to spend your time is really important. Drinking and getting
stoned are pretty passive activities, and we tend to have a lot of nervous
energy when we quit. Fill your time. Identify the times you used to use, and
make plans for what you're going to be doing.
you choose to use alcohol or drugs again, it isn't a moral failing or the start
of a progressive disease. It's just an unhealthy choice. Is there someone who you trust that you
can talk to about why you made that choice? It might be useful to talk about
what beliefs and emotions your decision was based on, and how you plan to deal
with it next time. Peer support can be incredibly useful, and that support is
available online. A habit can be hard to break, but it can be done. Your
past does not have to predict your future.
back a year or two. Where were you emotionally? What can you do now to be more
content and happier a month, six months, a year from now? Are there people in
your life who you think are models for comfortable, well-adjusted behavior?
What do they do that you can apply to your own life?
say you've quit drinking and using drugs.
It was uncomfortable at first, but not intolerable. Now think ahead a year or more. If
sometime in the future you are plagued by doubt, depression, or anxiety, and
things seem hopeless, you can look back on this time in your life when you
pulled yourself up, took care of yourself, and developed confidence, poise, and
peace of mind. There may even be others you can help. It really is easier to deal with life with a clear mind. I'm not saying sobriety will make you
happy. It'll just make it easier to make and achieve your goals.
Anonymous: AA says that their organization welcomes atheists and agnostics.
Decide for yourself! Read the 12 steps of AA here: http://www.recovery.org/aa/misc/12steps.html
Rational Recovery: "RR was founded
in 1986 by Jack and Lois Trimpey in response to the lack of choice in the field
of addictions. At the time, there was no choice other than the 12-step,
spiritual healing program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Lack of choice in recovery
styles is still a serious national problem, but RR has become well-known as a
viable and widely available alternative to addiction." http://www.rational.org/
Recovery: teaches self-reliance rather than reliance on a higher power. Views
addiction as a complex maladaptive behavior rather than as a disease.
Encourages you to recover and move on with your life. Does not use the labels
"alcoholic" or "addict." Does not have a
"sponsor". Holds meetings which are discussions rather than a
series of monologues. Evolves as scientific knowledge evolves. http://www.smartrecovery.org/
The importance of your language: http://www.skysite.org/primer/exchange.html gives examples of absolute words and their
Links for more
information about various recovery groups:
Secular Recovery http://www.unhooked.com
- Secular Organisations for Sobriety http://www.secularsobriety.org
for Sobriety http://womenforsobriety.org/
and analysis about addiction treatment, social policy, and harm reduction: http://www.peele.net/
Some variations on 12 Step programs:
approach to 12 steps: http://members.aol.com/JehanaS/recovery.html
of the 12 Steps from a Jewish perspective:
version of the 12 steps: http://www.geocities.com/b12steps/index.html