A study published in the May 15, 2014 issue of the journal Biological Psychiatry reports…
You Could Have a Drinking Problem and Not Know It
When the weekend rolls around and all you can think about is kicking back, having a few beers or cocktails with your friends or family members, there can’t be anything wrong with that, right? After all, you’ve worked hard all week and deserve some time for fun and socializing.
That alcohol is part of the scenario is only secondary, right? You could be wrong on both accounts. Depending on the extent of your imbibing — whether on the weekend or at any time — you could have a drinking problem and not know it.
What Is an “Alcohol Problem?”
Let’s define a little better what having an alcohol problem looks like. It varies from one person to the next for any number of reasons:
- Men generally can consume more alcohol than women, although that’s not always the case. A “low risk” drinker that’s male consumes 14 drinks per week, while a woman who’s a low-risk drinker consumes seven.
- Family history of alcoholism may play a part. Research has shown that the offspring of alcoholics may inherit a gene that predisposes them to problems with alcohol.
- Environmental influences contribute to add to the risk of alcohol problems. If you hang around with friends who drink heavily on a consistent basis and you’re trying to keep up with them, this is not a safe environment for you. Sooner or later you’ll develop a problem with alcohol.
- Mixing alcohol and prescription medications or other drugs is risky and can create problems, not only with alcohol but drug interactions and other risks.
To be clear, most people who drink do so responsibly. They’re neither heavy drinkers nor do they experience problems — for the most part, other than the occasional hangover — with alcohol. But drinking and drinkers might better be looked at on a sliding scale. This ranges from low-risk to mild and moderate to severe. The more you travel along the spectrum, the more likely you are to develop a drinking problem.
Debunking Alcohol Myths
Just because you might be a guy who thinks he can hold his liquor, don’t be fooled. Many a man has started off this way, pounding drink after drink, week in and week out, only to wake up one day in a jail cell after being arrested for driving under the influence (DUI). Not only has his bubble been burst relative to how much he can safely drink, but there are likely to be severe and lasting consequences for this problem stemming from alcohol consumption.
But it’s not just men who can become heavy drinkers, have a problem with alcohol, or develop an alcohol dependence or addiction to alcohol. Women are increasingly showing up in drug rehab to overcome a problem with alcohol that more or less snuck up on them. While they may have been able to get by for some time with a few glasses of wine in the afternoon, maybe coupled with some tranquilizers or a painkiller from that old back injury, after a while, a few glasses of wine becomes bottles of wine that she stashes secretly and rushes to the trash can just before rubbish pickup to avoid detection. If she chances getting behind the wheel to pick up the kids at school or run errands while under the influence of her drink of choice, there may very well be more than a scrape with the law as a consequence: she could seriously injure or kill someone else on the road, either in another vehicle or a pedestrian on the street.
What is true is that the more you drink, the more you drink. It can be a precarious balance you’re trying to achieve between being sober enough to function and tipping over the edge, and the truth is that you’ll likely not know when you’ve crossed over. This isn’t a function of mind control. The mind is waylaid by alcohol and you can’t make sound decisions, determine right from wrong, see clearly, react appropriately, or even recognize dangerous situations.
Another myth that people persist in believing is that if they stuff themselves with food, they can offset the alcohol they’ve consumed and sober up. Ditto the mistaken belief that drinking coffee will bring them back to sobriety. The only thing that will mitigate the effects of alcohol is time. It takes far longer than you think for alcohol to be completely removed from your body.
Suppose you’ve gone on for a while being a so-called casual drinker. But stress has mounted at work and you’re in hot water with the boss over a project that didn’t turn out. You’ve begun to imbibe a few more drinks than normal every night. In the morning, you’re a bit hung over and it takes a while to clear your head. Things don’t get any easier the longer you keep up this behavior, but you tell yourself it’s the only way to cope. You repeat the drinking and the amount you consume begins to escalate.
Or you regularly get together with your friends at the bar and typically consume about five or more drinks in a short period of time. This is called binge drinking and, while you may not do it every day, consuming too much alcohol in a short period of time can have dire consequences for your health.
Besides the risk of having an accident or getting arrested for a DUI, you’re also putting yourself at risk for falling, for accidental burning, getting into arguments with others that may turn physical. The harm you’re doing to your body is also accumulating. Your liver and kidneys may suffer, as well as other major organs in the body. Your brain is also affected by excessive drinking with the consequence that you could eventually suffer irreparable damage caused by repeated heavy drinking.
Alcohol is also implicated in other disorders and problems, including obesity (there’s a lot of sugar in booze), insomnia, hypertension, cancer, diabetes and more.
Excessive drinking is responsible for one in 10 deaths among working adults aged 20-64, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In addition, drinking to try to improve your mood is a dead-end street. The more you drink, the more depressed you’re likely to become – after the initial buzz begins to wear off. Repeating the behavior only makes the problem worse. When you find yourself drinking because you feel bad, you know you’re in trouble.
You’ve Detected an Alcohol Problem: Now What?
If things have begun a downward spiral due to alcohol, not that you’ve plummeted all the way down just yet but you recognize a pattern and you want to change it, what can you do? If you’ve just been drinking a little more than usual, try cutting down and see if that works. If it’s gone beyond that and the consequences are more serious, you may need to abstain from alcohol completely. Try staying away from booze for an entire month.
By cutting down on drinking, you’ll not only improve your overall health but add to the quality of your life. Some people, however, can’t get by without drinking and cutting back doesn’t cut it for them. You may be one of them. You’ve tried these approaches and find yourself compelled to go back to drinking. It’s likely that your problem with drinking is a little more serious than you initially thought. You may need professional help to overcome the need to drink. There is no shame in seeking assistance with a drinking problem. The sooner you ask for help, the sooner you can start enjoying your life again — without the crutch and the burden of alcohol.
By Suzanne Kane