Alcohol is an intrinsic part of life in most societies. When we get home after a stressful day at work, we unwind with a beer. We go out to restaurants and order wine to drink with our dinner. We celebrate birthdays and weddings with alcohol, and we ring in the new year while we are holding a glass of sparkling wine.
For many teenagers and young adults, getting drunk for the first time is regarded as a rite of passage. Alcohol is a staple ingredient for most parties that we attend as adults. The person who drinks the most is seen as “the life of the party”, while those who choose to abstain are pressed to “have a real drink”. When the party is winding down, guests are invited to “have one more for the road” before getting into their cars and driving.
All too often, people cross the line from having a drink to engaging in harmful use of alcohol. It is a fine line, and we often do not know when it has been crossed because it is socially acceptable – in some cases, socially expected – to get drunk.
The problem is that harmful use of alcohol, either as a one-off or on a regular basis, can have far-reaching effects on multiple areas of your life.
How Alcohol Can Affect Your Body
Most adults can metabolize about one unit of alcohol per hour. If you drink more than that, you can become intoxicated. This can result in nausea and vomiting, elevated blood pressure, headaches, and impaired motor skills. Some of these effects can linger into the next day – what we know as a “hangover”.
Unless you consumed enough alcohol to experience alcohol poisoning, these effects generally pass as the body metabolizes the alcohol. However, if you consume large amounts of alcohol on a regular basis, you may experience some longer term effects. These include the following:
- Liver disease. Excessive alcohol consumption over a period of time can lead to fatty liver disease, hepatitis, and liver fibrosis.
- Heart disease. Cardiac complications can arise, such as irregular heartbeat, stroke, cardiac arrest, and cardiomyopathy.
- Cancer. There is a higher risk of certain cancers, like breast, throat, colorectal, and esophageal.
- Cognitive decline. Long-term heavy use of alcohol can lead to neurological damage, which can result in learning difficulty, impaired memory and difficulty focusing or maintaining attention.
- Digestive problems. Repeated exposure to large amounts of alcohol can cause ulcers, pancreatitis, and other problems relating to digestion and metabolism.
- Reproductive problems. People with alcohol use disorders are at higher risk of erectile dysfunction, irregular menstruation, and reduced fertility.
Additionally, the use of alcohol during pregnancy can be harmful to the pregnant person and to the baby they are carrying. Risks include preterm labour, low birthweight, neonatal failure to thrive, and heart complications. The baby may experience the life-long effects that come with fetal alcohol syndrome, such as ADHD, intellectual disability, poor social skills, impaired motor skills, and behavioural difficulties.
How Alcohol Can Affect Your Livelihood
For most people, a glass of wine or a beer is simply a way to relax or be social with friends. They save their alcohol consumption for appropriate times, and if alcohol is not available to them, they do not get anxious or upset about not being able to drink. They are able to moderate their use of alcohol.
On the other hand, most people with alcohol use disorders drink in order to achieve a certain effect – to reduce social anxiety, to escape from stress, to cope with trauma, or any number of other reasons. If this behaviour is repeated enough times, it can quickly become a situation of, “the more you drink, the more you need to drink”. As your body and mind become used to the effects of alcohol, you find yourself needing to consume more in order to achieve those effects.
While this is happening, your body is developing a dependence on alcohol, meaning that you need to drink in order to function. And when this starts happening, alcohol consumption can take over areas of your life where it could do a lot of damage.
This can affect your livelihood and your financial wellbeing in several ways:
- As your alcohol dependence grows, you will spend increasing amounts of money on alcohol. A bottle of wine or a few beers here and there may not impact your family finances much. However, if you reach the point of needing to have a drink as soon as you wake up, you may be buying your alcohol with money intended for groceries or bills.
- You may start restructuring your life around your alcohol consumption. This may involve planning alternative routes to work so you can purchase alcohol on your way to the office, requesting different shifts to allow for your typical “down” times, and taking more frequent breaks.
- Being dependent on alcohol can result in you being late for work, and you may find yourself calling in sick frequently as a result of drinking or recovering from drinking.
- Your work performance itself can suffer, especially if your job involves physical strength or coordination, or mental acuity. In some cases, this can put coworkers or customers in danger.
Poor or dangerous work performance, lateness, absenteeism, and inconsistent hours can lead your employers to think of you as unreliable. You may be at risk of losing your job, and if your alcohol consumption caused injury or damage to property, you could also be on the wrong end of a lawsuit.
How Alcohol Can Affect Your Relationships
Like most addictions, alcohol use disorders can damage relationships with loved ones. The period of addiction – and in some cases, the circumstances leading up to the addiction – can create mistrust and fear.
Here are some of the ways in which harmful alcohol use can damage relationships.
- As you spend more money on alcohol, you may be trying to hide elements of your family finances from your partner. This behaviour may intensify as bill payments become past due.
- You may start asking loved ones to cover for you when you do not go to work, often by asking them to call your supervisor to tell them you are sick. This can lead to your family members resenting you for asking them to make excuses, and you resenting them when they refuse.
- People with alcohol addictions frequently withdraw from contact with people, even those who are closest to them. You may be spending time alone drinking instead of spending time with your partner and children, and you may start declining invitations to spend time with friends.
- Alcohol consumption can result in aggressive behaviour and violence. Many incidents of domestic assault are fuelled by alcohol. Not only does this generate fear and trauma among your loved ones, it can put their safety at risk, and it could result in children being removed from your custody.
The Human Cost Of Impaired Driving
Whether you use alcohol excessively just once or as a regular pattern, impairment can lower your inhibitions and reduce your powers of judgment. This leads to potentially risky behaviour, including driving while under the influence of alcohol.
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), 1,273 people lost their lives in 2014 as a result of drug or alcohol impaired driving. Alcohol was a factor in more than half of these fatalities, as well as thousands of injuries that range from minor to permanently life-altering. It is not only the impaired driver who is at risk, but also anyone who happens to be walking or driving anywhere nearby.
Impaired driving creates tragedies that do not need to happen. While legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limits have been laid out in impaired driving legislation, it is important to remember that you could be impaired even before reaching those legal limits. Your age, weight, state of health, medications that you use, and other factors could result in your “safe” BAC level differing from the legal guidelines.
Getting Help For Alcohol Addiction
At Thousand Islands Rehab Centre, we do not treat addictions – we treat people. To us, you are not “just an addict”. You are a human being struggling with a devastating illness, and as a top addiction rehab in Toronto we are here to help you. We will put together a customized addiction treatment program that takes into account your unique situation, and we will help you build the strength and the tools to cope in the outside world without needing alcohol. To get started, call us today.