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Walking a Straight Line

Alcohol Awareness Month centers on responsible choices

CHICAGO---In the short term, you could harm yourself and others. In the long term, you could develop chronic diseases and neurological impairments. Either way drinking too much is a problem. April is Alcohol Awareness Month, but too often, people are not aware enough about the problem.

There are about 88,000 deaths connected to excessive alcohol use each year in the United States, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is the third leading life-style related cause of death. Worse yet, the latest statistics show about 1.2 million emergency room visits take place each year due to extreme drinking. Many of those cases are alcohol-poisoning related, which requires medical emergency visits because high blood alcohol levels compromise the central nervous system. The system, which includes the brain and spinal cord, is typically known as the control center for the body. Binge drinking is considered four or more drinks at one sitting for women and five for males. Officials say like anything, self-control is the key.

"Drinking responsibly has everything to do with the amount of consumption and accountability. If you drink alcohol, it is best to do so in moderation keeping in mind factors that may alter how alcohol is metabolized," said Roxanne Spurlark, manager of clinical operations in the Emergency Department. "These things can range from what you had to eat to any medications you may currently be taking. Drinking alcohol puts you at risk for a number of health concerns as well, which include alcohol dependence, certain types of cancers and accidents."

Those who drink too much sometimes have a tendency to become violent, engage in risky sexual behavior and it can lead to bouts of depression. It can also lead down the road to neurological issues, including dementia and stroke. In addition, a person could experience cardiovascular or liver issues. Last year, 15,990 people died from alcoholic liver disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol will pass slower through the stomach if a person has recently eaten before it reaches the liver. Because the liver is responsible for breaking down the majority of alcohol, excessive drinking over time can damage the organ. The liver can only handle a certain amount of alcohol per hour. Too much alcohol can cause the heart to beat rapidly along with interfering with the brain communication system. Finally, it can weaken your immune system.

Doctors added that you should not drink under any circumstance if you are taking over-the-counter medication that may react poorly when mixed, recovering from alcoholism, suffering from a medical condition made worse by alcohol or if you are younger than 21.

The Standard Measure of Alcohol In the United States, a standard drink is any drink that contains 0.6 ounces (14.0 grams or 1.2 tablespoons) of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in

• 12-ounces of beer (5% alcohol content).

• 8-ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content).

• 5-ounces of wine (12% alcohol content).

• 1.5-ounces of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, whiskey).

SOURCE: Centers of Disease Control and Prevention

About Trinity Hospital Providing healthcare on the Southeast Side of Chicago for over 115 years, Advocate Trinity Hospital is a 193-bed not-for-profit health care facility. Part of Advocate Health Care, Trinity offers a full range of inpatient and outpatient services as well as a variety of community outreach programs. For more information on Trinity, please visit

To schedule an appointment with an Advocate physician call 1-800-3-ADVOCATE.

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