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ALCOHOL USE DISORDER

Problem drinking that becomes severe is given the medical diagnosis of “alcohol use disorder” or AUD.  AUD is a chronic relapsing brain disease (Alcoholism) characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using.

 

To assess whether you or loved one may have AUD, here are some questions to ask:

 

In the past year, have you or a loved one...

1.

Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?

2.

Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the after-effects?

3.

More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?

4.

Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?

5.

Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?

6.

Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?

7.

Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?

8.

Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the after-effects?

9.

More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?

10.

Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?

11.

Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?

12.

Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?

13.

Experienced isolation, drinking alone, hiding or drinking in secret.

Physical dependence involves tolerance to alcohol’s effects, which means people need more alcohol to produce the desired effect. Physical dependence also includes withdrawal symptoms when regular alcohol use is abruptly stopped.

Withdrawal symptoms can include sleeplessness, tremors, nausea and seizures within a few hours after a person's last drink. These symptoms can last from two to seven days and range from mild to severe, depending on the amount of alcohol consumed and the period of time over which it was used. Some people experience delirium tremens, or “the DTs,” five to six days after they stop drinking. This dangerous syndrome consists of hallucinations, confusion, fever and racing heart. If left untreated, severe alcohol withdrawal can result in death.

Alcohol can be dangerous in a number of ways. The impact of alcohol’s effect on judgment, behaviour, attitude and reflexes can range from embarrassment, to unwanted or high-risk sexual contact, to violence, injury or death. Alcohol is involved in more regrettable moments, crimes and traffic fatalities than all other drugs of abuse combined.  Mixing alcohol with other drugs can have unpredictable results. Alcohol may either block the absorption of the other drug, making it less effective, or it may increase the effect of the other drug, to the point of danger. The general rule is never to mix alcohol with any other drugs—whether the other drug is a medication or an illegal substance. 

Research studies have shown that alcohol may cause appetite loss, vitamin deficiencies and infections. It also irritates the lining of the stomach, which can be painful and is potentially fatal. Alcohol increases the risk of liver, throat, breast and other cancers. Alcoholic liver disease is a major cause of illness and death in North America.

Psychologically, long-term use of alcohol can damage the brain, which can lead to dementia, difficulties with co-ordination and motor control, and loss of feeling or painful burning in the feet. Alcohol dependence often results in clinical depression, and the rate of suicide among people who are dependent on alcohol is six times that of the general population.

ALCOHOL'S AFFECT ON THE BODY

Drinking too much over time can take a serious toll on your health. 

Cancer
 

Based on extensive reviews of research studies clear patterns have emerged between alcohol consumption and the development of the following types of cancer:

 

  • Head and neck cancer: Alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for certain head and neck cancers, particularly cancers of the oral cavity (excluding the lips), pharynx (throat), and larynx (voice box). People who consume 50 or more grams of alcohol per day (approximately 3.5 or more drinks per day) have at least a two to three times greater risk of developing these cancers than nondrinkers. 

  • Esophageal cancer: Alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for a particular type of esophageal cancer called esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. In addition, people who inherit a deficiency in an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol have been found to have substantially increased risks of alcohol-related esophageal squamous cell carcinoma.

  • Liver cancer: Alcohol consumption is an independent risk factor for, and a primary cause of, liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma). (Chronic infection with hepatitis B virus and hepatitis C virus are the other major causes of liver cancer.)

  • Breast cancer: More than 100 epidemiologic studies have looked at the association between alcohol consumption and the risk of breast cancer in women. The risk of breast cancer was higher across all levels of alcohol intake: for every 10 grams of alcohol consumed per day (slightly less than one drink), researchers observed a small (7 percent) increase in the risk of breast cancer.

  • Colorectal cancer: Alcohol consumption is associated with a modestly increased risk of cancers of the colon and rectum.

 

Source: National Cancer Institute -- see https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/alcohol/alcohol-fact-sheet

Brain

Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain looks and works. These disruptions can change mood and behaviour, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.  

Pancreas

Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion. 

Heart

Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems including:

  • Cardiomyopathy – Stretching and drooping of heart muscle

  • Arrhythmias – Irregular heart beat

  • Stroke

  • High blood pressure 

Immune System

Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease.  Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much.  Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.

Liver

Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including:

  • Steatosis, or fatty liver

  • Alcoholic hepatitis

  • Fibrosis

  • Cirrhosis