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5 things to know about risky drinking

Alcohol sloshes out of a glass as a hand nearly knocks it over.

April 13, 2019—No matter how you feel about alcohol, knowledge is power when it comes to avoiding its potentially serious consequences. For starters, check out these facts from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

1. It's the most commonly used addictive substance in the U.S. About 1 in every 12 adults struggles with alcohol use disorder. Millions more engage in risky drinking.

2. Dangerous drinking does real damage. Consider a few stats about alcohol's extreme impacts:

  • Excessive alcohol use is linked to 88,000 deaths per year.
  • Alcoholism is the third-leading lifestyle-related cause of death.
  • Up to 40 percent of hospital beds (except for in maternity and intensive care units) are being used to treat alcohol-related health problems.

3. Alcohol use disorder contributes to diseases. For instance, heavy drinking or binge drinking (drinking a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time) can increase the risk of:

  • Dementia.
  • Stroke.
  • Nerve damage.
  • Heart problems, such as heart attacks, an enlarged heart, atrial fibrillation (an irregular heartbeat) and high blood pressure.
  • Cancer, including liver, oral and esophageal cancer.
  • Depression.
  • Liver disease, including cirrhosis.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Alcohol dependence.
  • Suicide.

4. Alcohol use disorder has little to do with what you drink. Whether a person is dependent on beer, wine or liquor, they have an uncontrollable need for alcohol—a need that can feel as strong as a craving for food or water.

5. It's linked to breast cancer. Many alcohol-related health effects are tied to excessive drinking. But studies show that just one drink a day increases the risk of breast cancer in women.

Know the warning signs

Could you be at risk for or already have a drinking problem? The following can help you find out. For example, you could have a drinking problem if, in the past year, you:

  • Ever drank more, or longer, than you intended.
  • Unsuccessfully tried to cut back or stop more than once.
  • Got into dangerous situations involving alcohol.
  • Had to drink more to get the same buzz.
  • Kept drinking even though it made you feel depressed or added to another health problem.
  • Spent a lot of time drinking or recovering from a hangover.
  • Kept drinking even though it was causing trouble with family or friends.
  • Found that drinking interfered with home or work responsibilities.
  • Missed out on other things you care about so you could drink.
  • Had legal troubles because of drinking.

Ask for help

If you're concerned about your alcohol use—and you want to make a change—you don't have to go it alone. Ask your friends and family to support your decision. Your doctor can help you too.

Addressing a drinking problem early can help it from getting much worse. But people who have alcohol use disorder can recover with treatment and support too.

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