For many people, drinking alcohol is nothing more than a pleasant way to relax. However, some people drink excessively and cause damage not only to themselves, but also those around them. Alcohol problems can become a threat to one’s life, but therapies are at hand to help those who suffer from alcohol addiction.
For most adults, moderate alcohol use (no more than the equivalent of two glasses of wine a day for men and one for women and older people) is relatively harmless. However alcoholism, or being addicted to alcohol, will not only affect physical well being but also a person’s mental health.
Because alcohol abuse and alcoholism is often regarded as a sign of weakness, many people hide their drinking problem or deny they have a problem at all. In fact, alcoholism is a disease that is no more a sign of weakness than asthma or diabetes.
Alcohol is by far the most commonly abused drug in many countries. It is easily available and socially acceptable. Alcohol abusers consistently drink to excess, and to such an extent that their drinking can cause repeated damaging effects. Alcohol abusers often fail to meet their educational, work or family responsibilities. They may have drinking-related legal problems, such as drunken driving convictions, and their drinking can also lead to problems with personal relationships.
People with alcoholism or alcohol dependence are compulsive drinkers of alcoholic drinks. Alcoholism is not what kind of alcohol someone drinks, or even how much, but is related to the ability to control one’s drinking. People who are dependent on alcohol have simply lost the ability to control their drinking.
In general, problem drinking qualifies as alcoholism when the person:
- Drinks compulsively,
- Keeps drinking in spite of negative effects,
- Becomes upset when alcohol is not readily available.
Not everyone who gets drunk is an alcoholic. Many people drink to experiment; to be sociable; or to gain attention. However, alcoholics do not plan to get drunk; their drinking is an uncontrollable urge.
Although they can control their drinking at times, alcoholics are often unable to stop once they start. As their tolerance to the effects of alcohol increases, they may need to drink more and more to produce the same effect. Some people become physically dependent on alcohol, and suffer withdrawal symptoms when they stop after a period of heavy drinking. This can include nausea, sweating, restlessness, irritability, tremors and even hallucinations and convulsions.
It is believed that as many as one in ten people are an alcohol abuser or alcoholic. Drinking problems are also common among younger people, despite the fact that many countries have legal age limits on drinking. The incidence or occurrence of alcohol problems tends to be the highest among adults between the ages of 18 and 29, and lowest among those older than 65.
What causes alcoholism?
A number of factors play a significant part. For some people, personality traits such as impulsiveness, low self-esteem and a need for approval may lead to inappropriate or excessive drinking. Some people drink as a way of coping with emotional pain, and others use alcohol to medicate other mental disorders. When people start drinking excessively, they may become physically dependent, which means that drinking becomes the only way to avoid discomfort.
Genetic or inherited factors mean that some people are at a higher risk of becoming dependent on alcohol. Being able to ‘take a drink’ probably means that the person is more at risk, not less. Children of alcoholics are about four times more likely to become alcoholics themselves than other children. However, a family history of alcoholism does not mean that the child will inevitably become an alcoholic when growing up. Other factors, such as social pressure, and the easy availability of alcohol, can be important. Poverty and experience of physical or sexual abuse also increases the risk. The younger a person starts drinking, the greater the chance that an individual will develop an alcohol disorder at some point.
Alcoholism is also often associated with mental disorders such as Bipolar disorder, Schizophrenia and adult AHDH. In this case, it is important to treat this underlying mental problem besides the alcoholism itself. Such cases are effectively managed in some rehabs such as Hope Trust which has experience of successfully managing ‘dual diagnosis’ cases.
It is believed that as many as one in ten people are an alcohol abuser or alcoholic.
Results of excessive alcohol use
Alcohol slows down some of our brain functions. This can result in a number of problems. For example, inhibited speech centres in the brain causes slurred speech; affected vision centres produces distorted vision; depressed co-ordination centres results in loss of balance and limb control. These effects last for a few hours after drinking, but alcohol also produces increased agitation or irritation of the nervous system and this lasts much longer. We only have to think of the hangover and shakiness in more serious cases. This effect often makes heavy evening drinkers start drinking again the next morning, because the extremely uncomfortable agitation can be temporarily subdued by drinking more alcohol. A vicious circle is set in motion, and drinking patterns start to emerge.
Moderate drinkers are less likely to develop heart disease than people who do not drink or those who drink larger amounts. It is not advisable to start drinking only to benefit your heart. It would be wiser to take regular physical activity and change to a low-fat diet. Even for those who can drink safely and choose to do so, moderation is the key. Heavy drinking can actually increase the risk of heart failure, stroke and high blood pressure.
Short-term effects of alcohol include memory loss, hangovers and blackouts, but often these problems are not recognized until they become serious. In the long term, heavy drinking can cause impotence, stomach problems, heart problems, cancer, and serious memory loss and brain- and liver damage. Alcohol abuse can make existing mental illnesses worse, especially in the case of depression or schizophrenia. Alcoholism can also cause new problems serious memory loss, depression or anxiety. The risk of death because of drunken driving, homicide and suicide is also increased. Even for people who are not alcoholics, abusing alcohol can cause such problems. Moderate drinking can have unwanted effects too and drinking should be avoided before driving, during pregnancy and when taking certain medications.
The effects of alcohol are increased by medicines that slow down the central nervous system, such as: sleeping pills, anti-psychotics, antihistamines, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, and some painkillers. For example, if you are taking antihistamines for a cold or allergy and drink alcohol, the alcohol will increase the drowsiness that the medication produces, making driving or operating machinery more dangerous. Drugs for certain illnesses, including diabetes and heart disease, can become dangerous if taken with alcohol. When taking any over-the-counter or prescription medications, make sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist whether it is safe to drink alcohol.
People with alcohol-related disorders do not only damage themselves. The effects on families and friends can be devastating. Excessive consumption of alcohol is commonly cited as a reason for family or marriage problems. These may range from drunken violence directed toward a spouse or children, to financial problems caused by the compulsive purchase of alcohol. Children are more likely to develop emotional problems, suffer physical and sexual abuse and neglect, and grow up to be alcoholics themselves, when living with an alcoholic parent. Most children of alcoholics have experienced some form of neglect or abuse. Women who drink during pregnancy run a serious risk of damaging their babies. Even strangers can be affected, as innocent victims of traffic accidents or homicides.
That is why affected family members also need to initiate a process of healing for themselves. Hope Trust has a Family Support Program that runs concurrent to the treatment of a person admitted to facility for recovery from addiction.
Drinking and driving
A very small amount of alcohol can impair the ability to drive. It is known that certain driving skills, such as steering a car while responding to changes in traffic, can be impaired by blood alcohol concentrations as low as 0.02%. An 80kg man will have a blood alcohol concentration of about 0.04% one hour after consuming two standard beers or two other standard drinks on an empty stomach. The more alcohol you consume, the more impaired your driving skills will become. Impairment of driving skills begins at very low levels compared with those set as the legal limits set in some countries.
Alcoholics usually can’t stop drinking through willpower alone. Most alcoholics need outside help. Some may need medically supervised detoxification to avoid potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures. Once people are stabilized, they will need help to resolve the psychological issues that may have led to their drinking problem. They will also need to discover and resolve their personality and attitudinal issues in order to sustain abstinence.
Hope Trust has a holistic treatment program that addresses the physical, mental, emotional, social and emotional areas for long term and meaningful recovery.
A number of psychological methods or talking treatments have been found to be useful for dealing with problem drinking. These methods can help boost an alcoholic’s motivation to stop drinking, identify circumstances that trigger drinking, learn new methods to cope with high-risk drinking situations, and develop social support systems within the community. Because families influence both drinking and recovery, marital and family therapy is also useful. Families can be helped to understand alcoholism, and can learn how to support the person during their recovery. Hope Trust has a number of experienced addition therapists which includes psychologists.
Family and friends
Treatment for alcoholism is effective in many cases, but treatment does not end when the drinking stops. People need ongoing support to avoid relapse. Even after formal treatment ends, many people seek additional support through continued involvement with self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Only a minority of people will manage a year after treatment without relapsing. More often, people relapse one or more times before achieving long-term recovery. Relapses do not mean that a person has failed or cannot eventually recover. If a relapse occurs, it is important for the person to try to stop drinking again, and to get the help they need to do this. Support from relatives and friends can be very important for long-term recovery.
All clients at Hope Trust undergo a Relapse Prevention Program prior to discharge which helps them to minimize the risk of a relapse.
Self help support groups such as Al-anon are seen to be very helpful in providing appropriate insight and support to family and friends.
Convincing people to accept help when they do not want it, can become very difficult. Relatives often protect their loved ones by making excuses for the drinking and by helping them out of alcohol-related difficulties. It is important not to give in and try to hide a relative’s alcohol problems or come to the rescue in tricky situations. That way the person experiences the harmful effects of their drinking, and is likely to become more motivated to stop. Relatives can also help by locating information about treatment options and encouraging treatment.