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    Alcohol – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

    Donna Lilly, LCSW, LCAC, SAP, Chemical Dependency Treatment Coordinator, Deaconess Cross Pointe and Lynn Schnautz, MSN, RN, CCRN, CCNS, NP-C, Nurse Practitioner/Clinical Nurse Specialist, The Heart Ho 04/12/2016

    There can be a lot of confusion about alcohol and its effects on your health.  How much alcohol—and what kind—is good for you?  How much is too much?  And when does drinking become a problem?  Two Deaconess experts weigh in.

    From Lynn Schnautz, The Deaconess Heart Hospital
    Research is continuing to be done to identify some benefits of drinking alcohol in moderation.   This means an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. (A drink is 12 oz. beer, 4 oz. of wine, 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits, or 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits.)

    Red wine, in moderation, has long been thought of as heart healthy. The alcohol and certain substances in red wine called antioxidants may help prevent heart disease by increasing levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL, the "good" cholesterol) and protecting against artery damage.  According to Mayo Clinic, various studies have shown that moderate amounts of all types of alcohol benefit your heart, not just alcohol found in red wine.  It’s thought that alcohol may, in addition raising HDL cholesterol, can also reduce the formation of blood clots, and prevent artery damage caused by high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the "bad" cholesterol.

    While the news about red wine might sound great if you enjoy a glass of red wine with your evening meal, doctors are wary of encouraging anyone to start drinking alcohol. That's because too much alcohol can have many harmful effects on your body (more on that from my colleague below).

    There are other ways to improve your heart health without drinking alcohol.  Regular physical activity is another effective way to raise HDL cholesterol, and niacin can be prescribed to raise it to a greater degree.  Aspirin therapy may help reduce blood clotting and reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke. How alcohol or wine affects cardiovascular risk merits further research, but right now the American Heart Association does not recommend drinking wine or any other form of alcohol solely to gain these potential benefits.

    From Donna Lilly, Deaconess Cross Pointe
    In spite of some studies showing potential benefits of consuming alcohol in moderation, some people cannot limit their alcohol intake to safe levels.  Drinking that goes beyond what the CDC considers safe risk a variety of health problems.  Excessive drinking is known to increase the risk of breast cancer in women, can cause damage to the heart, liver, pancreas and weaken the immune system.  Heavy drinking has been linked to cancers of the mouth, esophagus and throat.

    Alcohol abuse has causes over 88,000 deaths annually making it the fourth leading cause of preventable deaths. Nearly 31 percent of all driving fatalities are alcohol related.

    At work, alcohol accounts for 35% of accidents, 35% of sick days and over 40% of worker compensation claims.  It is estimated that alcohol abuse costs our economy/society more than $249 billion annually.

    Binge drinking is a dangerous pattern of alcohol consumption that increases the blood alcohol level and raises the risk of immediate adverse consequences.  According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking for men is consuming 5 or more drinks within 2 hours.  Binge drinking for women is consuming 4 or more drinks within 2 hours.

    So how do you know when drinking has become a problem?  Here are some signs that a person might have a problem with alcohol:

    • Using alcohol in order to function or cope with life
    • Drinking more than intended or inability to drink within preset limits
    • Memory losses associated with drinking
    • Frequently drinking to intoxication
    • Going to work under the influence of alcohol
    • Driving a car while intoxicated
    • Needing medical attention as the result of drinking too much
    • Legal issues resulting from using alcohol
    • Behavior while drinking that is inconsistent with one’s value system

    If you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol contact Deaconess Cross Pointe to obtain an evaluation.   Deaconess Cross Pointe can provide outpatient counseling, group counseling or Intensive Outpatient Treatment.  The IOP program meets three evenings per week for 6 weeks followed by group or individual aftercare.  There are times when a person may need to be treated medically to safely withdrawal from alcohol, which in some cases, can be life threatening.  Attending meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous can also be helpful for support.  Family members can attend Al Anon meetings to understand the effects of alcohol abuse on the family.

    For more information about the Intensive Outpatient Services Program, visit

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