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Alcohol Addiction in West Virginia
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There used to be a widespread belief that people who used alcohol to excess simply had weak character, and were capable of quitting but chose not to. With advances in medical science, most health care practitioners and addiction specialists now agree that alcohol addiction is a progressive disease. The abuse of alcohol gradually causes a physical dependency on it, and once that has set in it is nearly impossible for the addict to stop drinking on their own.

Alcohol gradually changes the brain at a chemical level, causing damage that takes considerable time to repair. The problem is that the alcoholic will have to entirely quit drinking for an extended period to reverse this damage to get to where their condition is manageable. This is where willpower alone is not enough. The physical dependency results in awful symptoms if the alcoholic doesn’t drink regularly, usually forcing them to drink enough to get intoxicated several times a day.

Alcohol Abuse and Addiction Statistics in West Virginia

The state of West Virginia publishes an annual report called the Behavioral Health Epidemiological Profile, which collects statistics on all manner of substance abuse including alcohol use. According to the most recent of these reports, West Virginia actually has slightly lower rates of binge drinking and admissions to treatment facilities for alcohol abuse than the national average, but the state is significantly higher in alcohol-related fatal traffic crashes. We also learn from this report that alcohol abuse is much more of an immediate danger to men than it is to women in the state; men currently die from a cause related to alcohol abuse at three times the rate that women do.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s most recent Behavioral Health Barometer for the state dates back to 2012, but still sheds some light on the alcohol abuse trends and patterns in the state. The overall rate of heavy alcohol abuse or binge drinking is just slightly below the national average. However, a little over 90% of alcohol users who were drinking at a level that requires treatment did not get that treatment in 2012. About 24% of those who did seek treatment were also grappling with a drug abuse issue. While overall rates of alcohol abuse are not out of control in the state, there is clearly a serious problem with those who are most in need of treatment not getting connected with it.

College drinking is a particular issue in West Virginia. Each year, Newsweek ranks the top “party schools” in the nation, and West Virginia University is never far from the top of the list. It took home the dubious honor of top party school in the country in 2012, based mostly on having over 2,300 alcohol and drug-related arrests and disciplinary actions on campus the previous year. While these numbers are slightly inflated as they count non-students committing crimes and infractions on campus, WVU also tends to place in the top 10 in the nation for beer consumption year in and year out.

The Dangers of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol has a wide variety of negative health impacts. When it is used in careful moderation, these health impacts are minimal. However, alcohol abusers quickly develop a tolerance and have to use large amounts to continue to get the intoxicating effects.

When you drink large amounts of alcohol, it hits the pancreas and the liver particularly hard. Chronic alcohol abuse seriously elevates the risk for pancreatitis and cirrhosis, which can each respectively completely destroy the function of those organs. Heavy drinkers also sometimes develop jaundice, liver cancer and diabetes due to their drinking.

The effects of heavy alcohol consumption temporarily impair the central nervous system, which is what causes people to do stereotypical drunk things like stumbling and having difficulty speaking clearly. However, with long enough abuse, there can be permanent damage to both the brain and the central nervous system. Some signs that damage of this nature has been caused include eye twitching, loss of vision, and dementia.

Some other negative consequences of heavy alcohol use include ulcers, internal bleeding, malnutrition due to impaired ability to absorb nutrients, erectile dysfunction in men, infertility in women, osteoporosis and a compromised immune system.

How Do Drinks Vary In Alcohol Content?

It’s important to understand how alcohol content varies from drink to drink. Laws mandate that alcohol content be displayed on bottles purchased at retail, but when you are drinking at a bar or restaurant you are on your own for keeping track of your relative alcohol consumption.

Beer is the weakest of the alcoholic beverages, usually containing about four to seven percent alcohol per serving, with only a few rare exceptions that get up into the 10% range. If you’re drinking a common domestic like Bud or Coors, you are getting about 5% alcohol content with each drink.

Wine steps the alcohol content up to the 10-15% range, but this can actually vary greatly between different types. White wine is generally the weakest, with some varieties having as little alcohol content as a common beer, but to be on the safe side you should assume every serving of white wine is at least 10% alcohol. The red wines are a little stronger, usually starting at 10% alcohol and ranging up to 15%. Fortified wines (such as sweet dessert wines), sherry and port go even higher, ranging up to 18% alcohol content. Sake, or rice wine, is generally the strongest of the wines and has around 20% alcohol per serving.

Liqueurs can vary greatly in alcohol content, but in general you should assume they are about 30% alcohol content if label information is not available. After liqueurs, you are in the realm commonly referred to as “hard liquor” or “spirits.” This range starts with gin and vodka, which are usually between 36% to 40% alcohol, although vodka is capable of being a few percentage points stronger. Whiskeys and scotch are generally from 40% to 45% alcohol, with the exception of “cask strength whiskey,” which can range as high as 60% alcohol content. Rum ranges anywhere from 35 to 45% alcohol.

What You Can Expect From Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

Treatment for alcohol addiction in West Virginia begins with detox, a period of a few days in which the alcohol gets out of the system and the withdrawal symptoms are attended to with medical treatment. Once detox is successfully completed, patients move on to either outpatient or inpatient treatment. For most cases of alcohol addiction, a period of at least 30 days of inpatient treatment is very likely to be necessary. Treatment is a time for the alcoholic to learn the skills they need to manage their disease and once again live a normal life.

Finally make the decision to change and contact an addiction specialist today. Professionals are ready to help as long as you or your loved one is willing to accept it.