Alcoholism affects every third American
Photo credit: Yale School of Public Health

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, three in ten U.S. adults drink at levels that increase their risk for physical, mental health and social problems.

Photo credit: Yale School of Public Health

By Susan Whitley, M.D., director of Chemical Dependency Services & Integrated Ambulatory Behavioral Health Services, NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County

Many of us drink to relax and unwind. But, while alcohol may help deal with stress in the short term, in the long run, it can contribute to physical and mental health problems, making stress harder to deal with.

Drinking too much is not always obvious. Research shows that men who drink more than four drinks in a day (or more than 14 per week) and women who drink more than three in a day (or more than seven per week) are putting themselves at risk for alcohol-related problems. To clarify, by “drink,” the researchers mean about 0.6 fluid ounces of alcohol, typically found in 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.

At-risk drinking is common. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about three in ten U.S. adults drink at levels that increase their risk for physical, mental health, and social problems. This includes greater risk for high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, several types of cancer, depression, anxiety, insomnia, memory problems, and interpersonal conflict.

Drinking, even at lower levels, may be problematic depending on other factors, such as age, medical or psychiatric conditions, and use of medication. While more research is needed, patterns of alcohol use and its consequences vary widely among ethnic groups. For example, the medical impact of alcohol use appears to disproportionately impact Black and Hispanic populations, who have higher rates of liver disease related to alcohol use compared to non-Hispanic whites. Further, drinking to relieve stress might add to the risk. Preliminary research has shown that people who use alcohol to cope with stress may be more likely to develop serious disease, including alcohol use disorders.

Alcohol use and related problems are prevalent in Brooklyn, yet heavy drinking often goes undetected. Many individuals with risky alcohol use are seen in medical settings every day. At NYC Health + Hospitals/ Kings County, our behavioral health and ambulatory medical providers are partnering to make sure we are asking the right questions to identify at-risk drinking and related problems and to increase our ability to offer immediate on-site counseling for our patients. For those with more significant problems related to alcohol use, we also have psychiatric support, including specialty addiction psychiatry services, when needed.

Often, the first step is simple self-reflection or a frank conversation. So take that first step this April—which happens to be Alcohol Awareness Month—and examine honestly your alcohol intake or speak to a loved one about the effects of your alcohol use.


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