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Is your drinking habit something to worry about?

You might not be an alcoholic, but you could be an at-risk drinker.

Getting drunk day after day can cause brain damage. flickr/Thai Nguyen Getting drunk day after day can cause brain damage.
flickr/Thai Nguyen

Those after work drinks or game-day beers might not be as harmless as you think. According to Dr. Joji Suzuki, the medical director of Brigham & Women’s Hospital’s Addiction Psychiatry Service, many American men are “at risk” drinkers.

Dr. Suzuki says there are three levels of drinkers: "those who don’t drink and are therefore not at risk, those who drink and are at risk and those who have alcohol dependency and need treatment." If you're reading that and thinking, "Hey, I have a couple of beers on the weekend, what's the big deal?" don't stress. “An at-risk drinker is categorized as any male under the age of 65 who drinks more than 14 drinks in one week and/or drinks more than four drinks in one session,” says Dr. Suzuki.

Almost half of the male population — 40 percent — becomes an at-risk drinker at some point in their lives, "many during their college years,” Dr. Suzuki says.They may or may not become alcoholics, but at-risk drinkers pose plenty a danger on their own.

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“Hospitals are full of at risk drinkers who have gotten into a car accident. Also, falling over [is a big problem]: They break a leg, or hit their head. Trauma units are required to screen for alcohol use. ... Many of these folks just keep coming back.”

And the damage could spiral out to affect others, too.

“Alcohol leads to a lot of disinhibition and men say or do things they wouldn’t normally do," Dr. Suzuki says, noting alcohol's heavy use as a date rape drug. "Every year, thousands of sexual assaults occur due to questionable consent after binge drinking.”

Though alcoholism presents itself in many ways, someone extremely dependent on alcohol may drink every day and suffer withdrawal symptoms if he stops suddenly. Liver cirrhosis or brain degeneration can also occur. Dr. Suzuki says that education and awareness prevents most men from reaching that point.

“You don’t get cirrhosis at age 25, but if you keep it up, it catches up with you eventually," he says.

 
 
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