Breakthrough Patient Recruitment

: Alcohol Awareness Month Seeks to Address Problems of Alcoholism before It’s too Late

Alcohol Awareness Month Seeks to Address Problems of Alcoholism before It’s too Late

Recruitment Specialist

When people think "April," they think about showers bringing May flowers and a few rousing pranks on the first of the month. April is also host to a much more serious event: Alcohol Awareness Month. The World Health Organization (WHO) has cited alcohol as the third highest global epidemic in a measurement of potential years of life lost due to premature death. This annual death toll is estimated to be at least 2.5 million people worldwide. In the United States, this number is about 88,000. The CDC reports that more than half of alcohol-related deaths from 2006 to 2010 were related to car crashes, overdoses, and other mishaps related to excessive consumption and over-intoxication. The remaining deaths are associated with a much less discussed topic, the long-term health effects of alcohol abuse.

 

Alcohol Chart

 

Long-term alcohol abuse can cause an array of serious health problems, including increased risk for cancer, anemia, mental health issues, heart disease, and a higher susceptibility to infectious disease. While the risk for these remains high even after someone quits drinking, perhaps the most pressing of the long-term medical conditions involves the liver.

Cirrhosis is a chronic liver disease that, if treated early, can potentially be kept from progression, but cannot be cured. Alcoholics rarely seek help at the first sign of liver distress and often keep drinking, which speeds up the organ's deterioration. Patients may begin vomiting blood and seeing it when they pass stools, which are only two of the coagulation-related issues their body is suffering.

There are also changes in physical appearance, beyond jaundice, that appear in more advanced stages of liver disease. Fluids inside the body that the liver would normally process after eating or drinking instead remain in the abdomen until they are drained through a catheter inserted by a physician. Between drains, liters and liters of toxin-ridden fluid build-up, creating the illusion of pregnancy, which is especially jarring in males. In the days leading up to a draining, this becomes tremendously painful for the patient, and can also cause other side effects, such as nausea and disorientation.

This toxic buildup is most noticeable in the abdomen and legs; however, this isn't the only place it occurs. Patients can also experience encephalopathy, which is a change in brain function and activity that can lead to poor memory, difficulty with motor skills, comatose states, and psychosis.

People with late stage cirrhosis have a life expectancy of about 1 to 3 years, but once cirrhosis progresses into full-fledged liver failure, there is only one option: a liver transplant. There are more people in need of organs than readily viable livers. Most programs require a sobriety period of at least 6 months before qualification to even get on the list, and alcoholics, recovering or not, are often a lower priority than a patient with less risk of rejection or regression.

If you have a problem with drinking, or if someone you know has a problem, I encourage you to seek help before serious health complications occur. On April 9, thousands of community-based organizations, colleges, and military instillations across the country host National Alcohol Screening Day. These events are designed to educate the public about the potential effects of alcoholism and screen for risk or developing dependency. A simple Google search will produce plenty in your area. There is also a self-test available on the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence's website, and you can find treatment services locations near you by visiting the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website.

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