LiveSmart: When Drinking is a Problem – Know the Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder

[This piece was written by Jason D. Kirby, DO, MBA, medical director for addiction and recovery services, St. Peter’s Health Partners Addiction Recovery Center (SPARC).]

With the arrival of New Year’s Day, the holiday season has begun to wind down. While some will have memories of celebrations and family gatherings to cherish and carry them through the new year, for many others it is the culmination of a very stressful time with increased anxiety and loneliness. For many of those who dread the holidays, alcohol can be and usually is involved as a remedy.

People with an addiction to alcohol – also known as alcohol use disorder – typically engage in compulsive behaviors and use substances as both a coping mechanism and a way to get through day-to-day life. These behaviors often continue despite harmful consequences.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excessive alcohol use led to approximately 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost each year in the United States from 2006 to 2010. Excessive drinking was also responsible for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20 to 64 years.

Excessive drinking includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, and any drinking by pregnant women or people younger than age 21. Binge drinking, the most common form of excessive drinking, is defined as consuming four or more drinks during a single occasion for women and five or more drinks during a single occasion for men. Heavy drinking is defined as consuming eight or more drinks per week for women and 15 or more drinks per week for men.

Binge and heavy drinking can lead to a variety of short-term health risks including injuries, violence, alcohol poisoning, and risky sexual behaviors. Longer term, excessive alcohol use can lead to development of high blood pressure, social problems like family issues and job loss, a variety of cancers, and addiction to alcohol.

It is important to note not everyone who uses substances will become addicted, but approximately 10 percent will. There are numerous warning signs for someone with an alcohol use disorder but the most common are:

  • Does the person ever feel a need to cut down on their drinking?
  • Has anyone ever asked the person to cut down on their drinking out of concern?
  • Does the person ever feel guilty regarding their drinking?
  • Has the person ever used alcohol in the morning as an “eye opener” or to function throughout the day?
  • Has the person had negative consequences to their drinking including legal problems, marital problems, employment problems, and others?

The good news is that treatment services are available and St. Peter’s Health Partners Addiction Recovery Center can help. We offer a comprehensive program intended to provide patients specific services to regain functionality and get back to living a full and productive life.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, please call the SPARC Admissions Department at 518-452-6700 or Samaritan Hospital Inpatient Rehabilitation on St. Mary’s Campus at 518-268-5807. Visit us at for more information.

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