The longer a person abuses alcohol over time, the chances for developing alcohol dependence and experiencing the effects of alcohol abuse increase dramatically. Physical alcohol dependence is characterized by withdrawal symptoms when alcohol consumption is interrupted, by tolerance to the effects of alcohol abuse and by the presence of alcohol related illnesses. The most severe form of alcoholism is alcohol dependency which can eventually lead to death. Years of alcohol consumption and abuse can affect many body organs. The liver does most of the work breaking down alcohol for the body. Alcohol destroys the liver’s ability to regenerate cells which leads to progressive inflammatory injury to the liver. Eventually cirrhosis of the liver occurs. Malnutrition can develop due to a reduction in appetite, consuming empty calories that are void of any nutritional value in alcohol and anadequate absorption of nutruents in the intestinal tract. Other long term effects of alcohol abuse include heart muscle damage, nerve damage, damage to the brain, heart problems, erectile dysfunction in men, insomnia, depression, pancreatitis-chronic inflammation of the stomach and digestive organs, high blood pressure, increased cancer risks and fetal alcohol syndrome in the offspring of alcoholic women. Getting treatment for alcohol addiction is the best way to stop these physical effects of alcohol addiction before they start or stop them from worsening if they have already begun.
Addiction to alcohol occurs at a much faster rate in women than in men who abuse alcohol. Women metabolize alcohol different than men and hormone levels in females may also make them more susceptible to alcohol’s effects. As a result of excessive alcohol use, certain types of medical complications can result and include:
- Heart disease and related heart complications
- Poor nutrition
- Menstruation complications such as early menopause
- Fertility and childbirth complications
- Breast cancer
- Liver problems
- Brain damage such as shrinkage of the brain and dementia
- High death rate from suicide and accidents
If you are concerned about your alcohol use or that of someone you care about, seeking the help of a professional who specializes in substance abuse treatment could be lifesaving.
Individuals suffering from alcohol dependence frequently cycle through the same litany of questions. Why do I keep doing this? Why can’t I stop? Why can’t I just drink like other people? They feel certain that if they can understand the problem in the right way, the solution will present itself. And so, the cycle continues. Sometimes for years.
Tremendous personal energy is allocated to developing a theory that explains the behavior. Some of these theories may be valuable, some of them might even be close to the truth. But the real truth is that the reason why is not the problem. The problem is the drinking. And the solution is stopping.
Myth #1: I am the only person having mental health or emotional problems.
Mental illness affects an average of about one in four adults in the United States(1), in total that means that about 57.7 million people in our country are affected by mental illness(2). Although you may feel like you are the only person you know struggling to cope with mental health issues of some kind, it is important to know that you are not alone.
Myth #2: Addiction, substance abuse, and/or mental health issues are all my fault and make me a bad person.
There are multiple factors that affect the complex process of addiction, substance abuse, and mental health issues. Some of the factors include stress in your personal life, a diagnosed mental illness, lifestyle changes, difficulty in your family or relationships, or even habits of the individual. None of these factors are your fault or define you as a “good” or “bad” person.
Myth #3: Mental illness or substance abuse only affects people of low socioeconomic status or people with a “bad childhood”.
Again, there are several factors that contribute to the cause of mental illness, but the childhood you had, job you have currently, or the money you make are not directly the cause of your mental health or substance abuse troubles. Mental illness does not discriminate and is not exclusive to any stereotypical group of people.
(1) Kessler, R.C., Chiu, W.T., Demler, O. & Walters, E.E. (June 2005). Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), pgs. 617-627.
(2) U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates by Demographic Characteristics. (June 2005). Table 2: “Annual Estimates of the Population by Selected Age Groups and Sex for the United States”: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2004 (NC-EST2004-02)
The Monitoring the Future Survey has been administered to 8th, 10th, 12th grade students annually since 1975. The purpose of the anonymous survey is to establish baseline attitudes and behaviors concerning legal and illegal drugs. The survey seeks to determine how frequently (if at all) young people are using particular drugs and the attitudes about drugs, their perceived ill health impacts, for example, that accompany that use. 46,000 students participated in this year’s survey. Here are a few of the takeaways:
- 1 in 15 young people smoke marijuana on a near daily basis (a 30-year high)
- More 10th graders smoke marijuana than cigarettes
- 1 in 9 students reported using synthetic marijuana in the last year
- Poison control centers received 5,741 calls about synthetic marijuana last year
- Teen drinking – including heavy drinking – are now at historically low levels
What is addiction counseling? What is it like? People who struggle with addiction issues often have great difficulty talking about their, use, misuse, or abuse of alcohol and other drugs. An addiction counselor is someone skilled at these types of difficult conversations. An addiction counselor has a high level of knowledge and experience in the areas of drugs, alcohol, and the abuse of drugs or alcohol. Most importantly, addiction counselors understand the complex ways that alcohol and drug abuse affect an individual’s relationships: with himself or herself, with a spouse, with an employer, with God. An addiction counselor seeks to build a trusting relationship with the client in the hopes that this relationship will help the client make changes that once seemed impossible.
There is no doubt that substance abuse and addiction is difficult during every season of the year. Once the rush of the holiday season, balancing work and holiday time off, and a long few days of travel to see friends and family is over; all that is left is getting back to ‘normal’. January is a month full of change and resolutions, so making time to cope with personal hardships (like addiction and substance abuse) is put at the bottom of your to-do list. As February approaches, the usual hustle of preparing for a magical and romantic Valentine’s Day for you and a significant other, spouse, or partner takes priority. This reveals the real question: is there ever time to get help for myself?
Realizing that you are important enough to get help is the first step on your journey to navigate out of the dark path of addiction and substance abuse to a healthier life. The problems associated with addiction and substance abuse seem to start out slowly and pick up speed in what seems like no time at all. Using and abusing substances affects your life, the life of your friends, family members, children, co-workers, and everyone else you interact with on a daily basis. What began as a coping method for stress or an activity during your downtime quickly becomes a lifestyle and the center point of many more problems. To take charge of the cycle of use and abuse of drugs and alcohol is often the hardest part of the recovery and healing process; and takes courage and support. The process of recovery requires resources to get the help that you need in order to control the substances that have a strong grip on your personal life. Mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment are the vital next steps in the process of your recovery. Overall, wanting to live your life as the healthiest and most well person you can be is reason enough to seek help for addictions for the holiday of celebrating love. Loving yourself enough to get help is a magical and romantic thing that can give you back a healthy fresh start to your relationship with yourse
It’s a slippery slope that defines the differences between enthusiastic social drinker, binge drinker, problem drinker, and full-blown alcoholic. A new book, Almost Alcoholic: Is My (or My Loved One’s) Drinking a Problem? (The Almost Effect), examines the behaviors and consequences experienced by individuals described as “not quite” alcoholics. These individuals, subclinical alcoholics, are an emerging area of interest in the field of recovery and addiction studies.
What exactly is an almost alcoholic? Julie Silver, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, provides the following description of a typical almost alcoholic:
The father who comes home from work, is stressed and drinks to alleviate stress, ends up getting tired, goes to bed earlier and isn’t all that helpful to his wife, helping with the kids, isn’t as present for his wife and kids as he needs to be. This is really impacting their ability to function…
Alcoholism is a progressive illness. Not every almost alcoholic will become a full-blown alcoholic, but every alcoholic was, at one time, a problem drinker. It is important for almost alcoholics to get honest with themselves about the costs and benefits of their drinking behavior.