April is Alcohol Awareness Month, a time to increase awareness and understanding of alcoholism, its causes, effective treatment and recovery. How serious a problem is alcoholism in the U.S.? Consider the following:
• An estimated 6.8 percent of adults engaged in heavy drinking in the past month.
• About 16.6 million adults in the U.S. have an alcohol use disorder, including 1.3 million who received treatment in a specialized facility. An estimated 700,000 children and adolescents (12 – 17) also have this condition.
• An estimated 88,000 American die annually from alcohol-related deaths, the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.
• Alcohol contributes to over 200 diseases and injury-related health conditions, most notably alcohol dependence, liver cirrhosis, cancers, and injuries.
• More than 10 percent of U.S. children live with a parent with alcohol problems.
Alcohol may act differently in seniors than in those who are younger. Some older people can feel “high” without increasing the amount of alcohol they drink. This “high” can make them more susceptible to accidents, including falls and car crashes.
Drinking too much alcohol over a long time can:
• Lead to some kinds of cancer, liver damage, immune system disorders, and brain damage.
• Worsen some health conditions like osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and ulcers.
• Make some medical problems hard for doctors to identify and treat.
For example, alcohol causes changes in the heart and blood vessels. These changes can dull pain that might be a warning sign of a heart attack.
• Cause some older people to be forgetful and confused, making it appear as dementia.
In addition, many medicines, including prescription, over-the-counter, and herbal remedies, can be dangerous or even deadly when mixed with alcohol. Before taking any medicine, ask your doctor or pharmacist if you can safely drink alcohol.
Here are some examples of problems caused by mixing alcohol with some medicines:
• If you take aspirin and drink your risk of stomach or intestinal bleeding is increased.
• When combined with alcohol, cold and allergy medicines (the label will say antihistamines) may make you feel very sleepy.
• Alcohol used with large doses of acetaminophen, a common painkiller, may cause liver damage.
• Some medicines, such as cough syrups and laxatives, have high alcohol content. If you drink at the same time, your alcohol level will go up.
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