Over half of the adults in the United States report that they drank alcohol in the past year. While alcohol use is not uncommon, drinking too much can be lead to significant health problems, can strain relationships, and can cause problems at work and at home. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse have long been identified as a significant health problem in America. Yet, around 14 million Americans abuse alcohol at any given point in time. Nearly 20,000 people die each year directly from abuse of alcohol, while many more die or are injured in accidents where alcohol use is involved.
What is Alcohol Abuse and Dependence?
Alcohol Abuse is defined by health care professionals as repeatedly using alcohol to the degree that alcohol causes significant problems in one’s work, school, relationships, and other important aspect’s of one’s life. In spite of the acknowledgement that alcohol use is causing problems, a person with alcohol abuse continues to drink and continues to experience negative consequences.
Alcohol Dependence has many of the same characteristics as alcohol abuse, but also involves physical tolerance to alcohol. A person who is dependent on alcohol needs more and more alcohol in their system to feel the same effect. When a person with alcohol dependence stops drinking, he or she experiences physical withdrawal symptoms, such as shakiness, sweating, nausea, and irritability. Severe alcohol withdrawal may require medically supervised detoxification.
How do I know if Alcohol is a Problem?
The best way to determine if you have an alcohol abuse problem is to talk with a professional psychologist, counselor, or your family doctor. However, here are some signs that alcohol might be a problem for you:
• Getting drunk on a regular basis
• Lying to others about how much your drink
• Believing that alcohol is necessary to have fun or to cope with stress
• Having “blackouts” or forgetting what you did while you were drinking
• Feeling run down, depressed or even suicidal
• Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking (shakes, sweats)
The Holiday Season and Alcohol Use
Holiday celebrations often involve alcohol. It helps to keep a few tips in mind to make sure that alcohol isn’t a problem during the holidays, or anytime.
• Drinking and Driving is truly a risk. There is an alcohol related traffic death every half hour of every day.
• Plan ahead for parties. Don’t just think about making someone a designated drive. Identify someone each time.
• Alcohol won’t cure holiday blues. Drinking too much is a poor choice for coping with holiday stress, blues, or depression. In the long run, this typically adds to your problems.
Treatment for Alcohol Abuse
One of the most important factors emerging from treatment of any type of substance abuse is that rapid access to treatment is critically important. If you think you have a substance abuse problem, see a professional while you are motivated to change. You can see a psychologist, licensed counselor, or your primary care doctor. But most importantly, go now!
There area a variety of treatment approaches to help with alcohol abuse. Some of them include:
• Self-help groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous
• Brief counseling that focuses on one or two specific changes in a limited amount of time.
• Intensive Outpatient Counseling, which involves group and individual sessions a few days a week.
• Cognitive-behavioral counseling which focuses on understanding thoughts and behaviors which contribute to a cycle of addiction and relapse.
Many times, alcohol abuse is part of a larger picture. People who abuse alcohol often suffer from depression, anxiety, chronic medical problems, or psychological trauma. Talking with a qualified professional can help understand the broader situation and identify a place to begin.