BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Whether it's drinking to celebrate, drinking to relax or drinking to socialize - alcohol is a big part of Louisiana culture.
"Baton Rouge, LSU, New Orleans, Mardi Gras. We celebrate with alcohol everything," said rehabilitation counselor Reba Casebolt.
However, when one drink turns into a few drinks, and then a lot of drinks, the danger multiplies.
"Binge drinking, it doesn't get any better. It slowly progresses to the point that you are alcohol dependant if it doesn't kill you," said Casebolt.
That was the case for one Baton Rouge woman we'll call Holli. At age 13, Holli picked up her first alcoholic drink. By 14, she says she had a problem.
"At first I would drink to be comfortable in certain situations. Then I just liked to be intoxicated after that," said Holli who admitted that she would sometimes consume a fifth of alcohol in one sitting by herself.
For the better part of a decade, Holli says she would binge drink. At 19, she was in a serious car accident. At 22, she realized she needed help. However, it would be a few years more before she sought it out.
"Seeing the disappointment in my daughter's eyes when I got taken away from her the last time. Looking at my daughter's face," said HolIi about her lowest point. "I can't keep living like that anymore and I need to be an example for my daughter."
Holli is now in rehab at Cenikor, a long-term residence recovery center in Baton Rouge. Cenikor describes itself as a therapy community that addresses addiction and substance abuse on all levels.
While Holli is now working hard to keep her life on track, years of drinking took its toll. Now 26, she has permanent liver damage.
"It's the long term effects of the alcohol that your worried about," said Ochsner ER physician Dr. Nathan Freeman.
Alcohol is a depressant. It impairs judgment, and motor skills. Long-term abuse causes liver damage, and actually increases the risk for stomach, throat, and even breast cancer.
"The alcohol is irritate to the lining of the mouth and the esophagus and the stomach where it is. So, you have a higher turnover rate of cells, thus a higher risk for cancer," said Freeman.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, binge drinking is a major problem especially among young women.
"If affects our body because of the way that we are built. It affects us a lot faster and a lot harder than a man," explained Casebolt.
For women, binge drinking is considered four or more drinks in two hours. For men, five or more drinks in two hours is considered binge drinking.
As in Holli's case, experts say binge drinking often begins as a way to cope, but it can quickly lead to dangerous choices and puts women at risk for sexual abuse among other things.
"You're learning a defective coping mechanism and your brain is going to remember that," said Casebolt.
However, as Holli learned, help can be found in the form of counseling like in Alcohol Anonymous meetings, through in patient programs and out patient programs.
The first step, says Holli, is always the hardest.
"It shouldn't be something you're ashamed of because so many people can relate to the issue. First off, you've got to admit that you have a problem. That's when you can start getting on the right track to take care of it," she said. "Baton Rouge is one of the greatest cities in the United States for recovery. There's help at every corner."
To contact the Cenikor Foundation call (225) 218-1960.