Alcohol, How its Abuse or Overuse Can Impact Us

By Oscar Sanchez Urgiles (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Oscar Sanchez Urgiles (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


Suzanne Coleman, MD


I wanted to write a post on alcoholism.  Alcoholism is a common problem, approximately one out of every ten people is an alcoholic.  Yep, that’s right.  I know, the number can be surprising.  The current guidelines give you an easy way to understand when someone has a problem with alcohol, and here they are:

For men, if you drink more than two drinks a day on average, you have a problem.

For women, if you drink more than one drink a day, on average, you have a problem.

Other issues of concern are:  drinking until you pass out or don’t remember what happened, not good.  These are also signs of a problem with alcohol.

So what do they mean by “one drink” or “two drinks?”

There are different types of alcohol, and because they have different strengths, the amount that makes up “one drink” varies based on the type of alcohol you are talking about.

Check this out:

one 12 ounce can of beer = one drink

one 6 ounce glass of wine = one drink

one ounce of liquor (liquors are things like whisky, scotch, gin, brandy, vodka, tequila, schnapps, etc.) = one drink

So, really, why is it bad to drink too much alcohol?

Alcohol is a toxin, a poison, and while it can be relaxing and fun, it does do harm to our bodies, and in many cases, our personal lives.  Alcoholism is generally considered a disease where a person is dependent on alcohol or abuses it.  The best current treatment for these problems is to not drink at all.  Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has a program that definitely works for many people, it provides support for those who want to change, because it is hard to stop when your brain is telling you to drink, drink, drink to live.  That support can be life-changing.  They also offer Al-Anon which offers support to friends and family of those with a drinking problem.  AA is not right for everyone and there are other options.  You can begin by speaking with your physician or a counselor who can be very helpful in working with you to understand why you drink and more.

What does alcohol do to a body?  Good question, thanks for asking.  I’ll go through some of the main issues here:

If a person drinks too much, they will go through withdrawal when they stop; this can happen even on a daily basis.  For example, if someone binge drinks at night, the next day they can have symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.  What are the symptoms?  They can experience anxiety, shakiness, high blood pressure, and irritability.  These feelings can lead someone to become dependent on alcohol because when they start to drink again, it will stop some of these problems.  But it’s important to understand that it is the use of alcohol that is causing them in the first place.  Proper medical care will help to break this cycle by treating any underlying anxiety issues and explaining how the use of alcohol can make them worse.

If a person drinks heavily regularly and stops for a period of days, they can be at risk of severe withdrawal which can include seizures and more.  If someone is going to stop drinking, they should first talk with their doctor about the safe way to do that, this will help them to avoid the dangers of withdrawal.

Alcohol can also cause insomnia.  This can happen, even if someone only drinks a small amount.  So for those of you who suffer from trouble sleeping, keep this in mind.  If you drink alcohol and have insomnia, try not drinking for a few days and see how you sleep.  There will be another article coming soon on insomnia, so stay tuned for that.

Alcohol can impact your organs in a negative way, causing you harm.  I’m sure most of you have heard that it can kill off your liver.  It does this over time (unless there are other factors involved like medications used, or underlying diseases, which can speed up the damage), and can lead to cirrhosis of the liver.  The liver is critical for life, and if you kill yours off, you will not be able to survive.  The liver removes toxins (like alcohol) from the blood, keeping you healthy as much as it can.

Alcohol will also kill off your brain cells (think TOXIN, toxins are toxic, which means they kill off living tissues).  Over time, this can cause a person to have difficulty with balance, they will need to change the way they stand by keeping their feet wide apart, so that they don’t fall down.  Alcohol can also cause a person to start making up stories, this is called “confabulation.”  If your liver is impacted severely enough, it cannot process toxins and then your blood will have excess ammonia in it which will impact your brain.  This will cause you to be confused and act inappropriately.  A person with brain damage from alcohol can seem like a different person than they were before.

Alcohol can cause heart failure, which can lead to death.  The toxicity of alcohol can cause cancers of the mouth, esophagus, and stomach.  There are many other problems it causes in your body and online searches or conversations with your physician can help inform you further.

Socially, the worst part of alcohol abuse or misuse is the negative impact it has on a person’s relationships.  An alcoholic will choose alcohol over family and friends, and over being reliable at work (as all other addiction disorders tend to do as well). Alcoholics who drink usually end up harming their children and spouses by neglecting their relationships with them, or worse.  Adults have the choice to leave a bad relationship, but children do not.  The neglect that alcohol abuse often causes to children is the worst outcome of this disease.

What makes someone an alcoholic?  Well, there can be many different things that lead to this in an individual.  In some cases, when the person is young they see someone in their life using alcohol to cope with their problems.  When they see this they are learning that alcohol is the way to deal with problems, or just life in general, and then they start to drink too.  But the truth is that alcohol doesn’t make problems go away, it just covers them up or delays them for a while; this can often make problems worse, but children don’t understand that.  The younger a person starts to use alcohol, the more likely they are to become (or be) an alcoholic.  Young people should not be using alcohol for this and many other reasons.

From what I have read, some people are simply born with the genes to become an alcoholic.  When they drink, their body and brain tell them that they have to keep drinking.  It is an addiction and a disease.  Research shows that this may be related to dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain.

If you find yourself saying things like “I need a drink,” you should stop and wonder why.  Many people use alcohol to try and treat underlying medical problems like anxiety disorders, depression, and others.  Some people grow up in a home where there is little to no love or support; sometimes they turn to alcohol or drugs to numb the pain they feel from this lack of love which is necessary for humans to thrive.

If you or someone you know is having problems like these, I recommend finding a counselor to talk to about them.  I believe that counseling is one of the best things you can do for yourself.  Most people can benefit from counseling in one area of their lives or another.  There is nothing wrong with being strong enough to know when you can become even stronger by asking someone to help you.  I applaud anyone who reaches out for help to become a stronger and healthier person.


I have covered some general points on alcohol here.  I hope it has been helpful.  I encourage anyone who might have concerns about their use of alcohol, or that of someone they know, to reach out for help to a physician, a counselor, or AA or Al-Anon.


The information presented in this article is for educational purposes only.  If you have any questions or concerns, please speak with your personal physician.  The information presented may vary slightly from other sources, and over time, as is the nature of medical knowledge.



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