Drinking too much? | Dr. Petter

More than 13 percent of adults in the United States experience alcohol abuse or alcoholism at some point during their lives.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) reports that alcohol accounts for more than four million emergency room visits per year, resulting in 1.6 million hospitalizations and 79,000 deaths annually.

If a family member, friend or coworker mentions they are concerned about your drinking, you probably have a problem. Although you might not believe you do, denial is a very common characteristic of an alcoholic.

Ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do you drink alone or in secret?

2. Do you drink as soon as you get up in the morning or shortly after work?

3. Are you unable to limit the amount you drink?

4. Do you hide the bottles?

5. Do you become irritable around the time you want a drink?

6. Have you noticed you need to drink more to feel the same effect?

7. Are you having relationship, job, financial or legal problems because of the drinking?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, than you might be an alcoholic.

Besides the social and psychological implications of drinking, there are grave health dangers. Chronic alcohol use is associated with potentially serious health consequences, many of which are not reversible, and can be deadly.

Chronic alcohol use is linked to an increased risk of developing cancer (breast, colon, throat and liver). Alcohol can cause neurological impairments, such as permanent numbness of the fingers and toes, short-term memory loss and dementia. In addition, alcohol can have deleterious effects on the cardiovascular system, leading to high blood pressure, heart failure and stroke.

The implications for the digestive system are vast. Alcohol can cause inflammation of the lining of the stomach (gastritis) or an ulcer – which can cause life-threatening bleeding of the stomach or the proximal small intestine (deodenum). Alcohol can damage the pancreas (the organ responsible for producing insulin and digestive enzymes).

Eventually, alcohol causes chronic inflammation of the liver (hepatitis), which can lead to irreversible damage and scarring of the liver (cirrhosis).

Like any addiction, it is difficult to stop. The first step is to admit you have a problem and want to change. Next, reach out and contact support services. There are many resources and organizations available to help overcome alcohol addiction and maintain lifelong sobriety. Four suggested websites to begin:

• Alcoholic's Anonymous (, 1-212-870-4300

• Smart Recovery (

• Rational Recovery System (, 1-216-292-0220

• Schick Shadel (, 1-800-500-6395

Recovery is a lifelong process. But as you move forward, you will once again regain control over your life and your health.

Dr. Linda Petter of Auburn is a weekly feature on KOMO TV/News Radio (1000 AM and 97.7 FM) every Saturday and Sunday 7:45 a.m. and 9:45 a.m., and on a weekday during the morning and evening commute. She trained at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Illinois, Carle Hospital. Petter is chief of the Department of Family Practice at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way. She is a consumer healthcare advocate, and her books, "Healthcare On a Budget" and "Common Medical Sense" are available on Visit her website,, or call her office at 253-568-0841.

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