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Educating about Alcoholism

Silver Hill Hospital

April has been designated Alcohol Awareness Month with the purpose of educating the public about a disease that cripples families and costs society billions of dollars annually. “Teen Drinking Increases Chances of Alcoholism,” by Tony Phillips, is an excellent post detailing its effect on teenagers. With proper understanding, alcoholism can be avoided and with the right medical help, it can be treated.

Alcoholism is a disease

The first thing to understand is that alcoholism is a disease, not just a bad habit. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a full 20% of adults actually have a genetic marker for alcoholism—and while genetics do not necessarily dictate outcome, people with the genetic marker do have a higher risk of becoming abusers of alcohol. However, even if you do not have the genetic marker, you could still become an alcoholic. In other words, if you drink enough for a long enough period of time, you will become addicted.

Alcoholism is what we call a Biopsychosocial disease:

Bio – People differ genetically in their sensitivity to alcohol. Every person has a different biological sensitivity to alcohol, genetically predisposed or not.

Psycho – The mind of every individual has its own brain patterns and pathways. Therefore, each person has their own way of thinking about drinking and alcohol.

Social – The environment/culture in which one lives and works and how it affects drinking.

Social factors are in fact powerful determinants of alcoholism. For example, if you are genetically predisposed and live in an environment where drunkenness is accepted, the risk of becoming addicted is much increased. Conversely, even if you are predisposed but your society finds other ways to celebrate or relieve anxiety, the risk of becoming alcoholic is considerably lessened.

Alcoholism crosses the swath of society and can be found in any age, background, income level, social, or ethnic group. According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACOA), the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the watchdog group the Marin Institute, the consequences of untreated alcoholism are devastating:

  • A staggering 17.6 million people in the U.S. – 1 in every 12 adults – abuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent
  • There are 26 million American children of alcoholics in the U.S. – 11 million under the age of 18
  • Alcohol is a key factor in 68% of manslaughters, 62% of assaults, 54% of murders and attempted murders, 48% of robberies, and 44% of burglaries
  • Up to 40 % of all patients in U.S. hospital beds are being treated for complications due to alcohol-related problems
  • Untreated alcoholism causes more than 100,000 deaths annually
  • Alcohol-related car crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens
  • Alcoholism costs in excess of $166 billion annually

However, even with these grim statistics, recovery is possible. You’re not alone. People can live life beyond whatever they could have imagined once they seek proper treatment. As with any illness, the key for you and your family is getting proper treatment.

What to do if you are an alcoholic

Alcoholism is a progressive disease that will get worse over time. You may not even notice the point at which you become a full-fledged addict. In the worst case scenario, alcoholism can lead to death. It takes tremendous personal courage to admit you have a problem. But once you start on the path to recovery, you will see there is hope ahead.

Find need professional help

The single most important thing do is get professional help. Find a therapist who understands addiction by asking these three questions:

  • How many people with addiction have you treated?
  • How many patients relapse?
  • What do you do when there is a relapse?

If they have little experience, or you find they just don’t work for you, find another. You will absolutely need assistance. You will also find support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous provide needed and ongoing support. It is critically important to have the right coping strategies in place.

Find an AA meeting at the Location Resources Link

What to do if a family member is an alcoholic

As with your loved one who is an addict, you will need someone to help you through an extremely difficult situation. Find a therapist who has worked with families of addicts before, and understands the unique problems you are facing.

Support groups like Al-Anon are invaluable for the spouse and children. They provide experience, strength and hope. Go to six meetings before deciding if it’s not the right one for you. Each meeting has its own tenor and personality. You won’t be able to tell from visiting just once or twice.

Changing an addiction is hard. If you have a setback, get back on track as quickly as you can. If one approach doesn’t work, try another. Keep learning and remember it takes time. With effort and support, research shows you can be successful. This is a lifelong illness, but there is no reason it can’t be overcome.