Heavy alcohol use is about twice as common among construction workers as in the adult population in general. Why? Because most construction workers are younger adult males, the biggest drinkers among all demographic segments.
Heavy use is defined as five or more drinks on five or more occasions within a 30-day period. For many young men, that is simply five Friday or Saturday binges a month. Yet, even self-proclaimed “social” drinkers often approach this mark during an evening out with friends.
“Despite the risks associated with alcohol, data confirm that drinking is a popular recreational activity in the United States and Canada,” says the LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. He cites the most recent data (2004) which shows that 61 percent of American adults had a drink at some point during the year. Further, more than half of these (32 percent of all adults) binged on five or more drinks on at least one occasion during the year. At 76.8 percent, alcohol consumption is even more prevalent in Canada (1996 data). However, among those less than 25 years old, heavy alcohol use is higher in the U.S. than Canada (41 versus 35 percent).
Binge drinking is a common form of alcohol abuse, particularly among younger workers. Alcohol dependence (alcoholism) is another example of an alcohol problem. Moreover, regular use and abuse at younger ages can fuel sustained alcohol problems later in life. Less well known is the impact of routine alcohol use on long-term fitness and health.
“Because alcohol is so widely consumed,” says Borck, “individuals with alcohol problems are often ‘hidden in the crowd.’ Their habits are unwittingly supported and encouraged by the drinking activities of relatives and friends. Nevertheless, problem drinkers – and those who care about them – can use this common sense rule of thumb to assess their situations: do bad things happen when alcohol is used?”
Alcoholism is a disease that frequently runs in families. For instance, a quarter of the sons of alcoholic fathers follow in their fathers’ footsteps. Researchers speculate that because alcohol is not available in nature (it was “invented” by humans about 10,000 years ago when we adopted agricultural lifestyles), some humans do not have genetic protections against its effects. For these individuals, exposure to alcohol leads to addiction. As it develops, alcoholism includes the following symptoms:
- Craving: a strong need or compulsion to drink
- Loss of control: the frequent inability to stop drinking once it is begun
- Physical dependence: the occurrence of withdrawal symptoms when efforts to quit drinking are made
- Tolerance: the need for increasing amounts of alcohol to feel high
Alcohol abusers may or may not have alcoholism. Certainly for many, it is an emotional binge, more than a physical drive, that fuels the abusive behavior. Even when not physically addicted, however, most abusers have a difficult time breaking the binge habit. “Bad things” happen:
- Failure to fulfill major work, school or family responsibilities
- Driving a car or operating other machinery while impaired
- Legal problems due to arrests for driving under the influence (DUI) or fighting
- Problems in on-going personal and professional relationships
The long-term health problems of alcohol abuse can be severe. Liver problems are common, and heavy drinking also contributes to heart disease and cancer, the two leading causes of death among LIUNA members.
Less well-known is the impact of drinking on weight, a key ingredient of long-term health.
Gin and Tonic
Long Island Iced Tea
Liquor – 80 Proof
Rum and Diet Coke
Wine, red or white
Weight gain is a function of calories consumed versus calories burned. Every increase of 3,500 calories that is not burned off by exercise produces a one-pound gain in weight. Whatever its form, alcohol adds calories to a drinker’s diet. Drinking also diminishes the chance that a drinker will engage in physical activity and increases the likelihood that fat-filled food (such as pizza, chips, nachos or cheese) will be consumed on the side. The net result for regular drinkers is steady weight gain.
Consider the case of a Laborer who drinks two beers (or glasses of wine) each day after work. That adds up to about 1,400 calories a week or about 73,000 calories a year. At one pound for every 3,500 calories, those two drinks a day produce a gain of 20 pounds per year if they are not burned off through regular exercise.
While reducing or eliminating overall alcohol consumption will have the greatest impact on all the “bad things” associated with alcohol, recreational users can limit its downside by:
- Using diet beverages or natural fruit juices in mixed drinks
- Switching from regular to light beer
- Alternating water or club soda between drinks
- Eating food and drinking water before using alcohol
While moderate alcohol use is not dangerous for most people, even the slightest use can be dangerous for some and heavy use is problematic for most. The personal and social costs can be devastating.
Laborers and family members who have concerns about alcohol use should contact their Member Assistance Program (MAP), if available. Otherwise, a variety of help resources can be tapped.
Alcoholism and Drug Dependency Hopeline: 800-475-HOPE
Alcohol Treatment Referral Line: 800-252-6465
CSAT Drug Information, Treatment and Referral Hotline: 800-662-HELP
Alcoholics Anonymous Worldwide Services: 800-443-4525
Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH): 416-535-8501
Drug and Alcohol Registry: 800-565-8603
Marijuana Anonymous World Services: 800-766-6779
Narcotics Anonymous: 818-773-9999