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Behavior Awareness Glossary Lifestyle

When Is Alcohol Use Considered Chronic?

2 months, 1 week ago

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Posted on Sep 26, 2022, 9 p.m.

When it comes to alcohol use, different drinking behaviors can contribute to or present as alcohol use disorder (AUD). One of those is chronic alcohol use. But what is it, and how does it relate to the overall issue of AUD? Here’s how to know when alcohol use is chronic and what to do about it. 

Chronic Alcohol Use Defined

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) , alcohol use is moderate when it is limited to two drinks or less for men and one drink or less for women per day. When drinking exceeds that limit, individual drinking habits move from moderate to heavy alcohol use. Heavy alcohol use consists of more than four drinks per day or 14 drinks per week for men, and three drinks per day or seven drinks per week for women.   

There are competing definitions of what exactly constitutes chronic drinking. For example, Medical News Today describes chronic drinking as the leading preventable cause of death, a definition consistent with how others describe AUD in general. Even a third definition of chronic alcohol use distinguishes it as a severe case of AUD compared to mild cases. This can make things challenging when attempting to wrap our heads around the dangers of chronic alcohol use. 

While each of these definitions has some differences, the basic idea that can be found in each one is that chronic alcohol use, in general, includes the habits consistent with excessive drinking or heavy drinking over an extended time. Since alcohol is habit-forming, most, if not all, chronic alcohol users develop AUD. But troubling health issues come with heavy alcohol use over a long period.

Health Issues From Chronic Alcohol Use

Besides defining chronic alcohol use based on the amount of alcohol used and the time frame in which it is used, there is also a way to describe it based on the health issues that arise. Over time, chronic alcohol use will virtually affect all bodily organ functions, immune support in the body, and other factors we might not think of at first. For example, when alcohol releases endorphins, this can decrease sex drive and sperm count, possibly causing infertility. Chronic alcohol use can also cause pancreas inflammation, leading to diabetes or pancreatic cancer. 

Another threat that comes with chronic alcohol use is the various types of alcohol-induced psychosis. People who experience alcohol-induced psychosis can experience delirium tremens (DTs), a life-threatening situation that can cause heart palpitations, rapid heartbeat, high fever, and seizures. One more unexpected health issue is easy bruising, although this is a sign of a much more significant problem. If someone is committed to chronic alcohol use, easy bruising could be a sign of liver failure. As the liver works hard to filter the alcohol that enters our body, chronic drinking can cause the liver to swell, killing cells within the liver, and causing internal scarring of the tissue. When this occurs, excessive bruising can be a sign that the liver can no longer filter and maintain a healthy bloodstream throughout the body.

What to Do for Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

Chronic alcohol use overlaps with many of the same AUD-related concerns, but the big idea is excessive use over an extended time. This is when these various health concerns start to add up, and this is also where the damage being done to the body can become permanent and life-threatening. Because of this, it is imperative that chronic alcohol users seek professional help if they realize they have trouble controlling their drinking. Breaking the cycle is the best way to prepare for a full recovery.   

This article was written for WHN by Kevin Morris from the Delphi Behavioral Health Group, a dedicated family of facilities committed to offering individualized treatment for all levels of addiction working to treat it at its core to provide those suffering with the tools to start a journey of long-lasting recovery.

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.

Content may be edited for style and length.

References/Materials provided by:

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Alcohol Abuse and Addiction Treatment Guide. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/alcohol/

NIH. (n.d.). Drinking Levels Defined. Retrieved https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Physical Effects of Long-term Alcoholism. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/alcohol/physicals-effects-long-term/

Medical News Today. (2022 Aug 17). Potential Health Risks of Chronic Heavy Drinking. Retrieved https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/297734

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Guide to Alcohol Detox: Severity, Dangers, and Timeline. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/alcohol/detox/

NIH. (2019 Oct 29). Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). Retrieved https://medlineplus.gov/alcoholusedisorderaud.html

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). How Does Your Body Change After Prolonged Alcohol Use? Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/alcohol/change-body/

CDC. (2022 Apr 14). Alcohol Use and Your Health. Retrieved https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm#:~:text=Long%2DTerm%20Health%20Risks,liver%20disease%2C%20and%20digestive%20problems.&text=Cancer%20of%20the%20breast%2C%20mouth,liver%2C%20colon%2C%20and%20rectum.

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.).What is Alcohol-Induced Psychosis (Signs & Symptoms). Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/alcohol/psychosis/

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Why Does Alcohol Cause Easy Bruising? Can You Stop It? Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/alcohol/easy-bruising/

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