By Dr. Lauren Prest
It’s Alcohol Awareness Month and in Moab, alcohol is abundant. It is a big part of our tourism industry, in particular, which is a positive source of income for many. Alcohol is often seen as helping life feel more fun, relaxing, or pleasurable. On the other hand, alcohol use presents challenges when visitors and locals alike over-imbibe and can result in injury, interpersonal disputes, legal repercussions, and sometimes death.
Certainly in this day in age, the “opioid-emic” is getting far more press. But high-risk alcohol use is more prevalent than opioid and other drug use, and also more socially acceptable. People drink in happy times and sad times. They drink to numb their emotional and physical pain. They drink more or less depending on their stage of life, life stressors, family traditions, friendships, and physical tolerance. The COVID pandemic has changed how many people drink: recent studies indicate alcohol use may have increased by 21% over the last couple of years. Genetics and family dynamics have a role in how people perceive and use alcohol.
Some 14.8 million people in the United States over the age of 12 meet the criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder or alcohol addiction. As we examine our own alcohol use during Alcohol Awareness Month, it may help to understand what amount of drinking is considered excessive from a health standard.
Drinking any amount of alcohol is known to increase harm, but the CDC guidance recommends 2 or fewer drinks for men and just 1 drink or less for women on any given drinking day. It goes without saying that pregnant women, youth, those with significant medical problems, and those with addiction histories should not drink at all.
The most significant short-term consequences of alcohol use, including accidents, injury, and violence, are associated with binge-style drinking. Binge drinking is defined as consuming 5 or more drinks in one sitting for men and 4 or more drinks for women. The long-term health risks of alcohol use include high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease, gastrointestinal problems, malnourishment, brain damage, and a long list of cancers.
With all these negative health outcomes associated with alcohol use, not to mention the alcohol abuse’s impact on social function and family systems, it can be easy to carry a lot of stigma and shame about drinking and to avoid thinking about how significant the impacts may be on yourself and those who love you. But it’s also important to know how to get help and support if you are struggling to cut back your alcohol use on your own.
Moab Regional Hospital is opening a new recovery center in June 2022 to provide counselors, medical support, and even detox services for our community. It can be life-threatening to suddenly stop regular and heavy alcohol use, so reaching out for medical care is vital. Please have a safe start to the season and come find us at our new Recovery Center if we can support you or your loved ones!
Dr. Lauren Prest is a fellowship-trained addiction psychiatrist who worked at Moab Regional Hospital 2019 – 2022.