Useful information about Alcohol Use and Abuse

Looking for information about Alcohol Use and Abuse?

Liquor

Alcoholic beverages.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Ever hear of the Alcoholism Awareness Council? I hadn’t. Recently I found this site, or more precisely they found me. Looks like a good source for information on alcohol use, alcohol use disorders and what we used to refer to as alcohol abuse and dependence. They publish information, both statistics, and the latest research, in the field of alcohol use and abuse. Lots of links on this site to other sources, both researchers and government publications.

So if you are researching the state of alcohol use in America or working on a paper for a substance use class this site might be helpful.

Oh yes – sure, you can read counselorssoapbox.com also. I will do my best to keep you posted on the latest information in the fields of substance use disorders, mental health, and co-occurring disorders. But when you are not here at counselorssoapbox.com reading this blog, you might also want to check out the resources at Alcoholism Awareness Council           http://www.alcohol.org/

If you do check out the Alcoholism Awareness Council, please let me know what you think.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

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Alcohol, Drugs and Mental Illnesses

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Drugs.

Drugs.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

How are alcohol and other drugs connected to mental and emotional problems?

Alcohol

Alcohol

There are clearly a large number of connections between drug and alcohol use and abuse and mental, emotional and behavioral illness. The recognition of these connections has resulted in a growing emphasis on the relationships between drugs and alcohol and those conditions that we call Mental Illnesses.

This overlap, those times when someone has both a substance use disorder and a mental illness, was called first dual-diagnosis and more recently co-occurring disorders. The overlap is common but not total.

There are people with a mental illness that do not have a substance use disorder. There are also those with a substance use disorder that do not have a mental illness. Over time we have come to see that the overlap is so large that it is more common to see someone with both of these problems than not. The professionals in the field have come to think of co-occurring disorders as an expectation and not an exception.

This understanding that there are reasons for the overlap, or co-occurrence, of these two different disorders has spawned a lot of efforts to find effective treatments for people with multiple disorders. The advances in brain studies have resulted in a lot of research studies on the effects of various drugs and the brain. We now know more than ever before about how drugs and alcohol are affecting people’s thinking, feeling, and behavior.

Alcohol, the drinkable kind, has been around and in use longer than any other drug. We know more about this particular substance and its effect on the brain than probably any other chemical. I recently did a literature search for current scientific articles on the effects of Alcohol on the brain and the search returned 28,834 articles. Other searches would, of course, have returned even more.

Given this huge and growing body of research, I thought I should spend some time and some blog posts reviewing some of this new knowledge. While I can’t read every study and surely will only be able to report on a few highlights, I want to tell you about some of the things we know and some of the things I think about the effects of drugs on the brain and on those things we call mental illness.

There are several sources of this new knowledge. These studies, beginning with the ones focused on alcohol come from the following areas.

1. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.

Studies of children who have been exposed to Alcohol before birth show changes in the body, brain, learning, and behavior of those children. We used to think that only those children who were exposed to large amounts of alcohol developed problems. The more the research progressed the more we have concluded that any amount of alcohol consumed during pregnancy increased the risks to the child.

Just because a woman drank during pregnancy does not automatically mean that any problems her child has are the result of her drinking. Still, the link is so strong that most authorities now believe that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption for a woman who is or may become pregnant.

One result of the large overlap between substance use disorders and other mental illness is that a lot of people with a diagnosed disorder are at extra risk for risky sexual behavior and unplanned pregnancy. Parents with a disorder or two are more likely than others to produce an unplanned child.

2. Binge drinking.

The amount of damage drinking does to the body is correlated with the blood alcohol level. As a society, we have been looking at how much alcohol in the bloodstream is a safe level for someone to have and still drive.

Studies of the effects of various levels of alcohol on brain function have taught us a lot about the way in which increasing the level affects the person.

It looks certain that the higher the blood alcohol content the more the damage to the body and the brain. One drink a day all month may be theoretically safe but 30 drinks on one day is a very hazardous way to drink.

3. Alcohol affects structure and functioning of the brain.

We have known for a long time that chronic alcoholics have a reduced brain volume. We are now seeing studies of the effects of alcohol on brain regions and on the production of neurotransmitters. One treatment for depression is to increase the levels of serotonin in the brain. This is done by slowing the natural breakdown of serotonin which is one way many antidepressants work.

We know that alcohol is altering these neurochemicals and so may be increasing the risk of developing a mental illness, may make one worse or may mimic a disorder.

4. Chronic Alcoholics.

Studies of chronic alcoholics, how their brain works and the changes that brain undergoes have added to our understandings of what the alcohol may be doing to the other parts of the body and brain. Because alcohol totally mixes with water, and blood contains a lot of water, no part of the body avoids being damaged by drinking.

5. Developmental studies.

Studies of teens have suggested ways in which alcohol consumption may be affecting the development of the brain. The correlations between the amount that a teen drinks and the results of the rest of their lives, while not a proof of cause and effect, makes us think there are more connections than we previously realized.

We know that “F” students typically drink at least twice as much per week as the “A” students.

We also know that heavy drinkers take longer to heal from injuries than nondrinkers.

6. Brain scans and mice studies of the effects of alcohol.

Brain scans typically capture only a moment in time. Mice studies are not proof that what we see in mice is what is happening in humans. But when the two agree it lends credence to the concept that alcohol is fundamentally altering the way in which brains and the nervous systems function.

7. Learning studies and functional studies.

There have been a lot of studies on how alcohol and other drugs have been affecting people’s memory, behavior, visual and special recognition, learning and other specific brain functions.

Now that you know where the information is coming from let’s begin in future posts to look at why we think mental illness and substance use disorders so often occur together and then what are some of the specific effects of alcohol and other drugs on the body and the brain.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Alcohol prevents healing.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Liquor

Alcoholic beverages.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Is a little alcohol medicinal?

We have long known that chronic alcoholics had a whole lot more health problems than non-alcoholics. Heavy drinkers get hurt a lot. They fall down and break things. We blamed it on their being drunk and uncoordinated.

Now, there is word, that drinking may also inhibit the ability of the body to repair cells. This inhibition seems to be at the molecular and cellular level.

This reduced ability to heal is not simply the result of problem drinkers having a poorer diet and other unsatisfactory health practices, although those are large issues also. It would appear that alcohol fundamentally impairs the ability of the body to repair cells that are damaged.

To test this theory out, that too much alcohol may inhibit healing, a study was done in mice. By raising the alcohol level to .20 over twice the legal DUI level researchers were able to see the effects of acute alcohol levels on healing rather than only looking at the long-term effects of excessive drinking.

These “binge drinking” mice, who had broken bones, were unable to heal at the same rate as their un-inebriated fellow mice.

Drinkers that break bones may have a reduced ability to heal, may heal more slowly and there are more complications during the recuperation process.

Those binge-drinking mice appear to have explained the problem. The presence of alcohol in the bloodstream and therefore in every cell in the body reduces the ability for bones to heal when damaged. We now suspect that binge drinking can result in poor healing in many other areas.

Drinking alcohol may be an old home remedy for pain, suffering, and sleeplessness but new research tells us it is a hindrance not a help for those applications.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Alcohol does not help with depression

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Bottles of alcohol.

Alcoholic Beverages.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Why drinking won’t make you happier.

Most people think that drinking makes you happier and for some few people who were already happy it seems to work that way.

But if you are depressed, drinking can leave you more depressed than before.

Seems like the depressed person just can’t get a break.

We associate alcohol with parties and fun times. A little will loosen you up, so we think. What it is in fact doing is relaxing parts of the brain. A little relaxation may be helpful but a lot leaves you falling down.

One reason alcohol is associated with fun times is its ability to “disinhibit” you. It shuts off the part of your brain that may be telling you not to do that. So under the influence and even one drink begins to exert an influence, you may do things that you would not do without that drink. You might make a joke, dance more uninhibitedly or participate in an activity that at other times you would not attempt.

What alcohol does not do is make you suddenly happy.

It is the activity you are engaged in that is producing the happiness. Alcohol is a depressant. It works its magic spell but shutting off parts of the brain. The depressed person, unable to cope with parts of life when sober, becomes less able to cope when drinking, not more so.

 For the depressed drinking results in an increase in depression, not a reduction.

People with Major depression who drink are more likely to be disinhibited and do negative, bad things rather than to become happy.

The depressed person is more likely to attempt suicide while intoxicated. Some depression is the result of being angry at others and then taking the feelings out on yourself. If you are in a bad job or relationship we may blame ourselves for being trapped there rather than blame the other people. In this form of depression, we used to call this reactive depression; the depressed person when intoxicated is at increased risk to try to even the score with the person that has made them angry.

The depressed person is not likely to take only one drink.

If one is good for making you happy, so the reasoning goes, more should be better. The depressed person is at high risk to continue drinking until very drunk or even unconscious.

Unconsciousness, as we have seen in other posts, is not the same thing as sleeping. So people who use alcohol to cope with depression will find that they “come to” rather than wake up. In this state, the depressed person will be more depressed as well as hung over. The only cure for this is, in most minds, more alcohol. The cycle begins to accelerate.

There is a high rate of co-occurrence between excessive alcohol use, alcoholism and depression. Depressed people who drink are at extreme risk to develop alcoholism and chronic alcohol abusers become progressively more depressed.

Despite all the marketing efforts made to convince us that alcoholic beverages are stimulants and make people happy, the real truth is that alcohol is a depressant and any amount stresses the mind and body.

If you are depressed the last thing you should be doing is trying to drink your troubles away. If you are genuinely happy, the more you celebrate with alcohol the less happy you are likely to be.

For most alcoholics, the alcohol was early on their solution but the more they drank the more the alcoholic beverage became their problem.

Alcohol tends to be very addicting, particularly to those with mental health issues. Remember that the category “people with mental health issues” includes most of us at one time or another.

Drinking to regulate emotions is a very risky habit.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Does drinking lite beer keep you from getting drunk?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Man drinking

Drinking beer.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Can you avoid alcohol problems by drinking lite and non-alcoholic beers?

The question of drinking lite beers and drinking so-called “non-alcoholic” beers comes up frequently. People who have had problems with alcohol in the past consider switching to these alternatives to reduce the risks. Does this work?

Personally and professionally I do not recommend an approach of limited alcohol consumption to anyone who has experienced a problem with their use of substances in the past. If you have had drunk driving arrests, been diagnosed with substance abuse or dependence or have other psychiatric problems that are affected by alcohol consumption trying to solve the problem by changing to other alcoholic beverages is not likely to work. Why? There are two major problems with this approach.

Lite beers do not contain less alcohol.

The percentage of alcohol in a beer is usually set by state or local law. In California, for a long time, “beer” had to be under 4% alcohol. (I am not a lawyer and can’t tell you if this changed but the principle remains the same.) In other places, beer could have a higher alcohol content say 5% or 6%. Above that limit it can be sold, just the name changes and so does the tax rate.

I checked an online list of beers and their alcohol contents and they mostly ran in the 4% to 6% range. One popular beer Budweiser was listed as having 5% alcohol. Bud Light was listed as having 4.2%. So the difference is small and in places, with lower limits both would have the same amount of alcohol.

Lite beers have fewer calories not less alcohol. So you do not get as full and you can drink more. Whether you drink lite beers or regulars – after four or five you will be legally drunk.

Watch out for the dangers of binge drinking.

Drinking lite beers do not keep you sober! Only not drinking keeps the alcohol out of your system. Any alcohol consumption begins to change your thinking; the difference is how much it affects you not if it will affect you.

Even “nonalcoholic beers” can contain some alcohol.

The online chart I consulted lists “nonalcoholic” Beer as having four-tenths of a percent alcohol. So this should be safer. In my experience, it is not. After four or five “non-alcoholic” beers the minimal amounts begin to add up. The cumulative effect is a change in thinking.

For anyone with an alcohol use disorder, the danger here is that after drinking a number of “non-alcoholic” beers they will begin to reason that they can have one or two real ones without a problem.

As any real alcoholic will tell you “one is too many and a thousand is never enough.”

So if you have developed an alcohol problem or if you are taking a prescribed medication that tells you to avoid alcohol, my advice to you is – don’t fool yourself by trying to find ways to use alcohol safely.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.