Monday, December 30, 2013

Resolutions, part III: The short-term consequences of drinking alcohol

New Year’s often brings resolutions to quit or cut back and/or to avoid relapse. Quitting or cutting back can be as life-changing as pledges to work out more in 2014 or promises to get a new job for the new year. Here are additional considerations about alcohol use disorders, quitting and staying sober.

About eight percent of the population is has the disease of alcoholism and 35 percent are alcohol abusers, but in a 2011 ABC News/Gallup Poll, 67 percent of Americans admitted to having ever abused alcohol. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts the number at 61.2 percent currently drinking frequently and 14 percent former regular drinkers. Four percent of deaths globally – 5.5 percent in the U.S. – are linked directly to alcohol according to the University of Toronto Centre for Addiction & Mental Health 2009 study.

Here are the direct health risks for anyone who uses alcohol. The risks apply to light to moderate drinkers, not just a hard drinker. The direct impacts of alcohol are associated with getting drunk, being drunk or activity while drunk. (Parts four and five of this series cover the long-term and indirect causes of death and illness from drinking.) The most common categories for direct causes of death documented include the following:

Alcohol poisoning
The first symptom most people experience is sudden death. There is no way of accurately gauging how close you are to a lethal dose of alcohol until you pass it. Coma and death are possible at Blood Alcohol Concentrations (BACs) above .30, however lower BACs can produce the same result depending upon tolerance and health.

Alcoholics can have an extremely high tolerance and the margin between the tolerance dose and the lethal dose is razor thin: They can die at a BAC of .50 or higher without even feeling buzzed. They also can experience sudden drops in tolerance, increasing the risk from death by alcohol poisoning.  Singer Amy Winehouse died in 2011 at a .40 BAC but twice before had been hospitalized at higher BAC levels. You just don’t know when you are not going to wake up.

Absence of alcohol can and does kill alcoholics because the disease quickly alters the body’s tissues. They become dependent upon alcohol, requiring it in the bloodstream constantly or the body begins to shut down during withdrawal, much as it would without oxygen. Alcohol withdrawal is the only drug withdrawal other than benzodiazepines that can be fatal. Not heroin or meth, the alcohol you find in aisle six of the Winn-Dixie.

Researchers Glen Hanson, Peter Venturelli and Annette Fleckenstein in the book Drugs and Society found “About five percent of alcoholics in hospitals and perhaps 20-25 percent without treatment during withdrawal die” suffering from delirium tremens (DTs—high fever, heartbeat irregularities, etc.). Medically supervised detoxification is a requirement for severe alcoholics because of life support, not for the sedatives to make the other pains of withdrawal more bearable.

Accidents and violence
The number one cause of emergency room visits and 21 percent of all injuries is alcohol (Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research). This includes injuries to someone who was drinking and injuries by someone who was drinking. Two hospital admissions each minute are attributable to alcohol directly, according to the North West Public Health Observatory. This was a 65 percent increase over five years.
. . . 30 percent of transportation injuries are alcohol-related
. . . 22 percent of the 12 million home-accident injuries in 2012 were alcohol-related
. . . 58 percent of fire fatalities have alcohol in their systems, which presumably kept them from fleeing safely
. . . 45 percent of drownings are alcohol-related
. . . 15.5 percent of occupational injuries are alcohol-related
. . . And 56 percent of assault victims have alcohol in their bodies . . . when you drink you are at a two-and-a-half-times greater risk of a violent death.

The media has overemphasized alcohol’s role in car wrecks but has under-reported the role of alcohol in other violent or accidental deaths. A 2012 Ohio State University study concluded that news organizations failure to report alcohol in those cases dampens public support of alcohol-control laws or abstinence.
-- Adapted from Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud

Image: Adamr

Details on the third literary award for Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud, plus the new radio interview replay is available at and please read the new interview with Scott Stevens at Christoph Fisher Books.  Mr. Fisher is an acclaimed international historical fiction novelist from the UK.