The American Medical Association (AMA) defines alcoholism or alcohol dependence as a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations.
Research shows that while some people develop a dependence on alcohol due to family history, childhood abuse or poor self-esteem, a few others get into alcohol use because of peer pressure or to fit into a certain group of people. However, irrespective of the influences that persuade a person to use alcohol, the bittersweet truth is that the journey from “one drink” to “one last drink” is mostly not anticipated.
It is so because unlike the popular belief, once a person passes the threshold levels of alcohol abuse, dependence and tolerance, he/she tends to develop an addiction to alcohol. By this time, his/her brain chemistry gets altered due to substance use and it becomes extremely difficult for him/her to quit alcohol because of the discomforting withdrawal symptoms.
It is also important to know that alcohol addiction is different from alcohol abuse. Those who abuse alcohol usually drink heavily, but not regularly. Such people behave recklessly or have a tendency to mix substances of abuse, which can lead to alcohol poisoning. Further, abuse may lead to addiction, but not vice-versa. However, alcohol addiction involves all aspects-dependence, abuse and tolerance.
State of alcohol addiction in America
Alcoholism is soaring in the United States, the worst part being the fact that more than 80,000 people are losing their lives to alcohol every year.
Recent statistics by renowned research and analysis organizations like the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reveal the current state of health of Americans.
Here are a few alarming statistics:
- Alcoholism is the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the nation. (Source: NCADD)
- Six people lose their lives due to alcohol poisoning every day; three out of four such people are men. (NIAAA)
- Every day in the U.S., another 29 people die as a result of drunk driving crashes. That’s one person every 50 minutes. (Source: MADD)
- Around 4,700 teens are killed every year due to alcohol use, which is way more than the deaths caused by all illegal drugs combined. (NIAAA)
- Men are twice as likely as women to overdo drinking, be intoxicated behind the wheel or be involved in fatal motor vehicle accidents. (NIAAA)
- Approximately one in two women of childbearing age drink, and 18 percent of women in this group binge drink (five drinks per binge, on an average).
- Less than 8 percent of the 15 million plus people who struggle with an alcohol use disorder receive treatment. (NIAAA)
- Up to 40 percent of all hospital beds in the United States (except for those being used by maternity and intensive care patients) are being used to treat health conditions that are related to alcohol consumption. (NCADD)
Knowing the warning signs of alcohol addiction
Alcohol consumes the body and the mind of the person using it. While the warning signs of drug and alcohol addiction are many, the disruption in normal life caused due to alcohol addiction has serious effects on the afflicted person’s thoughts, feelings and actions.
Hence, even if alcohol addiction may not seem like a real thing, it is a big menace. To stay away from being trapped, you should be watchful of these red flags:
- Resorting to alcohol for every celebration or sorrow
- Preferring to drink alone than in someone’s company
- Lying about the drinking habit and behavior
- Binge drinking whenever and wherever possible
- Negligent attitude toward own health and responsibilities
- Reckless behavior or no fear of law or rules after drinking
- Frequent blackouts, leading to impaired memory functioning
- Weight gain caused due to slow absorption of nutrients from food
- Development of tolerance to the substance
- Discomforting withdrawal symptoms, severe than a hangover
Alcohol is not the solution to any problem. In fact, its dependence, abuse or addiction is a problem in itself.
The resultant alterations in brain chemistry caused due to alcohol addiction affect both physical and mental well-being of the afflicted person. When left untreated, existing issues aggravate and comorbid disorders develop. Getting an accurate diagnosis and undergoing proper treatment can often be a far-fetched dream if the consulting expert is unable to determine if the symptoms are present due to an addiction or a mental illness.
Here is a view of the short- and long-term effects of alcohol use on your body:
· Slurred speech, drowsiness, headaches
· Vomiting, diarrhea, anemia
· Difficulty in breathing
· Distorted vision and hearing, decreased coordination
· Coma, blackouts, unconsciousness
· Impaired judgment
· Hormonal changes
· Sleep problems
· Accidental injuries due to inebriation, violent behavior
· Fetal damage
· Loss of productivity, increased problems in relationships
· High blood pressure, alcohol poisoning, liver disease
· Nerve damage, stroke, heart-related diseases, permanent brain damage
· Ulcers, gastritis, cancer
· Sexual problems
· Depression, personality disorders, suicide
If someone you know is experiencing the above mentioned signs and effects of an alcohol addiction, then your support can be a great aid.
It is with your support that attaining recovery can become a priority for them and everything they love does not have to come last. When that happens, the afflicted person learns to persevere and be remembered for his/her recovery and not his/her addiction.
Here are ways of helping someone with an alcohol addiction:
- Understand the nuances of alcohol addiction by seeking guidance from published resources and qualified experts.
- Encourage them to be open about the challenges faced so that you can help them find alternates or solutions to the same.
- Tell them about the effects their habits are having on you/others so that they do not take you/others for granted.
- Convey to them that you are by their side always irrespective of how bad or good the situation may be.
- Convince them to join a support group or attend community meetings to learn from people facing similar battles.
- Spare time to take them to detox or therapy sessions whenever possible so that they do not feel alone or demotivated.
- Lead by example by making a no-drinking pact and rewarding each other for a sober lifestyle from time to time.
- Be forgiving and avoid blaming them for anything wrong happening in their life, even when the same is true.
- Avoid confronting them or getting into an argument with them when they are not sober.
- Remember to keep a tab on your physical or mental health while trying to help them.
- Refrain from drinking yourself to escape the stress or find an easy solution.
- Convince them to seek a second opinion from another qualified expert when no favorable results are visible.
As alcohol addiction continues to claim more lives than ever, it is important to remember that the stigma surrounding alcohol addiction is a key contributor to the same.
Supporting someone with alcohol problem is possible. You can do your bit to reduce the deadly stigma by following the useful tips given below:
- Remember that addiction is a disease and spread the word so that others too can change their outlook.
- Practice the habit of not judging people with addiction and encourage others to do so too.
- Talk statistics and proven facts instead of communicating personal opinions.
- Offer help and support to people with addiction by convincing them to seek help.
- Maintain your calm and composure when helping an afflicted person in denial.
- Guide people who have little control over their situation to seek help.
- Give your best efforts to help the afflicted person in identifying the root cause of his/her addiction.
- Never allow anyone to treat a person with addiction in ways that can put him/her under undue pressure.
- Lead by example and stay away from any form of addiction yourselves.
- Be open about your shortcomings (read: addiction) if you have one and seek timely help.
- Motivate people to share their own battles and recovery journey so that others can learn from them.
- Join organizations and nonprofit agencies committed to such issues.
Living in denial or showing little or no willingness to talk about addiction is a characteristic many people with addiction have.
Should the same be a thing of worry? Not really! There are several ways of helping a person living in denial about addiction, including the following:
· Persuasion: The first step involves communicating how their habits are affecting the physical or mental health of the members of the family/neighborhood. To attain success, it is important to plan the conversation in advance, fix a mutually suitable time for the conversation and cite specific instances instead of personal opinions.
Further, confrontations and blame game should be avoided. You must do this over a few days. Additionally, you can simultaneously do the following things to ensure that your efforts do not go in vain:
o Telling them on a regular basis that you/others understand how difficult it must be for them.
o Convincing them to join support groups where they can learn from people facing similar struggles.
o Discussing the importance of a healthy lifestyle and what they are missing out on due to their habits.
o Joining activities that you can do together, such as a sport, dancing classes or anything else of mutual interest.
o Accompanying them to the doctor at least during the first few visits and when they are low or demotivated.
o Attending family therapy sessions to strengthen the bond between the two of you and other members of the family/loved ones.
· Setting clear limits and boundaries: While allowing the afflicted person to take some time to mend his/her habits through the aforementioned ways, it is also necessary to let him/her know that he/she does not have an indefinite period of time to think and act.
You can do so by conveying the eventual consequences of his/her habits. Further, you should also refrain from enabling him/her. It is natural for family members/loved ones to fall prey to the tantrums or the lies of the afflicted person. This can give the false impression to the afflicted that he/she has control over everything.
Taking a stance and sticking to it helps the afflicted person know that he/she is in a tight spot. This has the potential to convince him/her to at least seek professional guidance for his/her habits, if not the treatment in the first go itself.
· Medical intervention: If nothing seems to be working well to help an afflicted person in denial, it becomes extremely important to reach out to a professional interventionist or a certified medical practitioner. Their experience and expertise can help them reason with the afflicted person. However, you should plan this in advance so that there are no last minute issues. Doing so is possible by involving concerned family members and friends who know the afflicted person well and are ready to stand by him/her.
Further, you should also be aware of the concerned person’s habits and behaviors. This can help the interventionist have a backup team ready, just in case a medical emergency arises. You should also practice self-care by joining a support group or consulting a therapist yourselves. This is necessary because sometimes, in our endeavor to help someone else, we end up putting our physical or mental health at stake.
Regardless of whether a person is an occasional drinker, regular drinker or a heavy drinker, the truth is that alcohol does not discriminate when it comes to affecting the user’s body and mind. It slowly crawls upon to become an addiction and with time, instead of the person abusing alcohol, alcohol begins to abuse him/her back.
But the good news is that alcohol addiction is treatable. With the help of a comprehensive treatment program that involves therapy, detox, self-care, and a relapse prevention strategy, seeking a full, healthy and lasting recovery from alcohol addiction is possible. The key to the same is consulting a qualified addiction expert who has experience in dealing with patients with addiction as well as comorbid disorders. He/she can also enable the family members/ loved ones of the afflicted person with ways to help someone with alcohol addiction.
You too can help someone overcome alcohol addiction. When you religiously follow the dos an don’ts of helping a person with the addiction, it can be a blessing for the afflicted person and his/her loved ones.
Take the first step toward supporting someone with alcohol dependence today and witness the difference you can make to their lives! Every bit of your support for alcohol addiction and the people afflicted with it, will count, sooner or later.