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alcohol abuse

There has been a lot of talk over the years about moderate alcohol consumption resulting in a healthier heart. Reports of which have led to many Americans believing that their couple of glasses of wine with dinner is actually doing them a service. As you can probably imagine, it is a line of thinking that could have dangerous consequences. A threat that could be linked to the blurred lines between moderate and heavy alcohol consumption.

The idea that a little wine may help the heart may not be the best thing to focus on, and perhaps we should center our attention on what can happen to people who have a little too much wine. It’s widely accepted among researchers and health experts that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a host of medical problems, from cirrhosis of the liver to cancer. However, while several researchers have looked at the benefits of alcohol with regarding the heart, few have looked at alcohol’s harmful effect on this very important organ.

With that in mind it is important that we discuss a new study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, indicating heavy alcohol consumption leading to atrial fibrillation, heart attack or congestive heart failure, CNN reports. When you consider that as many as 10 to 15 million Americans abuse alcohol, taking a closer look at how alcohol affects the heart and how Americans perceive the substance is of the utmost importance.

“When we look at alcohol, we have almost glamorized it as being this substance that can help us live a really heart-healthy life,” said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of women’s heart health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who was not involved in the research. “I think, ultimately, drinking in excess leads to heart conditions, and we should really understand the potential toxicity of alcohol and not glamorize it as something we should include as part of our lives — certainly not in excess.” 

The current study relied on data from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project’s California State Ambulatory Surgery Databases, Emergency Department Databases and State Inpatient Databases. Specifically, California residents 21 or older, hospitalized between 2005 and 2009, according to the article. Dr. Gregory M. Marcus, director of clinical research in the Division of Cardiology at the University of California, San Francisco and colleagues, found that alcohol abuse could be linked with a:

  • 2.3-fold higher risk of congestive heart failure.
  • Two-fold higher risk of atrial fibrillation.
  • 1.4-fold higher risk of heart attack.

“It didn’t matter if you had a conventional risk factor for these diseases or not. In every case, alcohol abuse increased the risk,” said Marcus. If asked, many Americans might equate alcohol abuse with alcohol addiction (alcohol use disorder).

While people with an alcohol use disorder do in fact abuse alcohol, people who abuse alcohol are not necessarily alcoholics. Most people who drink alcohol in unhealthy ways, such as binge drinking or drinking multiple days in a given week, are not always dependent upon the substance. Those who fall into that subgroup may fool themselves into thinking that because they are not reliant (dependent) on the substance, they are not experiencing any of the negative consequences alcoholics are subject to. Which simply is not the case.

“Abuse doesn’t necessarily lead to a pattern where you use it every day and you’re developing a tolerance or developing withdrawal symptoms,” said Dr. Scott Krakower, assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in New Hyde Park, New York. While Krakower was not involved in the study, he points out that alcohol abuse is when “you’re using it excessively at times and it’s getting in the way of functioning.” 

If your use of alcohol is affecting your health, work and/or relationships, then you may have a problem that is beyond your control. Please contact Hope by The Sea to help you better evaluate the situation, and assist you in determining if you or a loved one needs treatment.