How a drinking habit becomes a drinking problem

USA TODAY - Battling addiction of any kind might be best referred to as a lifelong journey. "Journey" is a word addicts will tell you describes the treatment plan they must follow every day of their lives.

And every journey has a beginning.

“No single event in the life of an individual will lead to alcoholism," said Betsy B. Abrams, a licensed clinical social worker in Clarksville, Tenn., who specializes in treating addictive behaviors.

"It is often a combination of reasons, events, genetics and other causes that lead to drinking in excess."

Some of those causes include:

• Death of a loved one or family member, particularly a spouse or child.

• Divorce.

• Loss of job with decrease in income; failure of a business.

• Loss of a home or bankruptcy.

• Problems at work.

• Depression, including anxiety, schizophrenia and other mental health disorders.

• Inability to deal with life’s problems.

“Many people start out as occasional or social drinkers. There are no real problems in life of a serious nature.

"But as stress enters their lives, that beer at night or that glass of wine at dinner increases and now it is a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine. Now a problem exists.”

Is it a problem?

So, for the occasional drinker, how much a night is too much? And how do you know if you have a problem?

The answer varies, because no two alcoholics are the same. What they drink will differ, as will the amount they drink.

The amount of a drink varies by what you're drinking. One drink is defined as a standard 12-ounce can of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

And one or two drinks will affect different people in different ways, depending on a person's size and other factors, such as drinking on an empty stomach.

One critical question: Is your drinking harming your life? Are there problems at work? Are your relationships with family and others faltering? Do you find you are having a drink during the day? These are red flags, Abrams said.

According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 15.1 million adults 18 and older had alcohol use disorder — when a person's drinking causes harm or distress. The same survey found 1.3 million adults were treated at a specialized facility in 2015 for alcohol use disorder.

There were 9,967 fatalities related to alcohol-impaired driving in 2014, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Treatment

When it comes to treating alcoholics, that also differs from patient to patient.

Alcoholism is a widespread disease that isn't treated by a written prescription to take this or that, or do this or that.

The journey toward sobriety only begins when the drinker admits there is a problem. That doesn't happen overnight. Sadly, for some alcoholics, that realization and acceptance never occurs.

“I believe in the effectiveness of the 12 Step program,” Abrams said. “Although there are 12 steps in the program, each person must find their own way in working the program. The time it takes to complete the 12 steps will vary greatly from person to person. Some take more time than others.

“There is no timetable in the treatment of alcoholism. People need to remember that, as well as remember that treatment never ends. The 12 Step program brings structure and discipline into the lives of addicts. It also brings honesty and the willingness to face oneself when lapses occur, and lapses will occur. It means working the steps every day for the rest of one’s lives.”

Critical to the success an alcoholic achieves is having the support of family, friends, fellow alcoholics and sponsors. Sponsors provide direct support and mentoring to other alcoholics. Alcoholics do not want to feel like they are all alone in battling their demons. Support is available through Alcoholics Anonymous groups.

There is a great deal of shame and guilt that alcoholics feel. Abrams wants there to be more understanding of the disease. No matter how someone became an alcoholic, there should still be encouragement, support and compassion.

Contributing: Chris Smith, The (Clarksville, Tenn.) Leaf-Chronicle. Follow Tim Parrish on Twitter: @leafchronicle

The Leaf-Chronicle


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