Alcohol Abuse in the San Francisco Bay Area

With a population close to 18 million residents, the San Francisco Bay Area accounts for a significant portion of California’s population.  As with any large population, alcoholism has become a pervasive issue for the community, particularly amongst women. Each woman is unique in their addiction and the specific treatment they need to overcome it.  Having served the San Francisco Bay Area for over 50 years, Good Shepherd Gracenter has seen the difference a stable home environment can make in a woman’s recovery.   Serving San Francisco and the greater Bay Area, almost every woman that comes into Good Shepherd Gracenter with little or no money, a limited education, and an uncertain future.  In San Francisco alone, the government spends over $10 million annually on Substance Abuse Treatment and Prevention services.  Without care, the most likely consequence is a return to the more familiar use of drugs and alcohol to ameliorate the negative effects of their dire circumstances.

The data below was taken from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol, while widely available, does have health risks.  Drinking on a single occasion, or over an extended period of time and have a serious impact on your health if it is abused.  Here are some ways Alcohol can affect your body:

Brain: Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain looks and works. These disruptions can change mood and behavior, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.

Heart: Drinking a lot over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart, causing problems including:

  • Cardiomyopathy – Stretching and drooping of heart muscle
  • Arrhythmias – Irregular heart beat
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure

Research also shows that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may protect healthy adults from developing coronary heart disease.

Liver: Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including:

  • Steatosis, or fatty liver
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Fibrosis
  • Cirrhosis
  • Pancreas: Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion.

Cancer: Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of developing certain cancers, including cancers of the:

  • Mouth
  • Esophagus
  • Throat
  • Liver
  • Breast

Immune System: Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease.  Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much.  Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections – even up to 24 hours after getting drunk.


In the United States, about 18 million people have an alcohol use disorder, classified as either alcohol dependence—perhaps better known as alcoholism—or alcohol abuse.

Alcoholism, the more serious of the disorders, is a disease that includes symptoms such as:

  • Craving—A strong need, or urge, to drink.
  • Loss of control—Not being able to stop drinking once drinking has begun.
  • Physical dependence—Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety after stopping drinking.
  • Tolerance—The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to feel the same effect.

People who are suffering from Alcoholism will often spend a great deal of their time drinking, making sure they can get alcohol, and recovering from alcohol’s effects, often at the expense of other activities and responsibilities.

Although those suffering from Alcoholism are not physically dependent on alcohol, they still have a serious disorder. Alcohol abusers may not fulfill responsibilities at home, work, or school because of their drinking. They may also put themselves in dangerous situations (like driving under the influence) or have legal or social problems (such as arrests or arguments with family members) due to their drinking. *

Like many other diseases, alcoholism is typically considered chronic, meaning that it lasts a person’s lifetime. However, we continue to learn more and more about alcohol abuse and alcoholism; and what we’re learning is changing our perceptions of the disease. For instance, data from NIAAA’s National Epidemiological Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions has shown that more than 70 percent of people who develop alcohol dependence have a single episode that lasts on average 3 or 4 years. Data from the same survey also show that many people with alcohol dependence recover with no formal treatment; and many people who do seek treatment are able to remain alcohol free.

By addressing each woman’s recovery in a holistic way, she has a better opportunity to obtain employment, and deal with the emotional stress of such a significant lifestyle change.  Gracenter found that the most effective treatment has been to concurrently address a woman’s emotional, social, and spiritual needs, in addition to giving them resources for recovery mentoring and connecting them with broader networks of support.

Using the holistic approach to addiction recovery also gives some women another opportunity to recover, should they relapse.  With these broader networks of support that Gracenter works so hard to help each woman create and maintain, a relapse no longer becomes the “end of the story”.  Gracenter has, in fact, re-admitted women who struggled with recovery, returning to alcohol and drugs after their departure, were then re-admitted and successfully graduated to maintain long-term sobriety.

Please contact Gracenter if you would like to learn more about what can be done for alcohol or drug addiction.  We are located in San Francisco and offer a safe and private community to help each woman with their unique struggles of addiction.


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