Companies that market alcoholic beverages spend a lot of money on advertising that encourages the idea,"drink to enjoy life." These ads promise happiness, attractiveness, and life-of-the-party fun. What they don't warn is that the use of alcohol to relax, elevate mood and feel more confident has a potential downside. It is habit forming. Stress---in this case, the response to a challenging event---has long been known to increase vulnerability to addiction.
Most people are satisfied to drink one or two drinks socially. And not everyone with an above average tolerance for alcohol becomes an alcoholic, but just about every alcoholic shows an abnormal tolerance for alcohol. Others have a hard time knowing when and how to stop. For example, young people frequently don't know their limit and can be persuaded by others to "prove" themselves by drinking more than they can handle.
Alcohol Changes the Body
Alcohol changes the body's chemistry over time. When the liver, the key organ of the body that detoxifies excess chemicals, can no longer do its job effectively, one's tolerance of alcohol diminishes and withdrawal symptoms appear. This happens in stages and varies according to the susceptibility of the drinker. Studies show that alcoholism runs in families.
The Cure Feeds the Disease
Statistics offered by the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information indicate that one in ten people in the United States has a vulnerability to alcohol which is classified as alcoholism. Whether a genetic disposition or learned behavior, alcohol abuse causes lives to spiral out of control. That is because alcoholics need alcohol to self-medicate, often to counteract anxiety and depression. The "cure" only feeds the disease. It becomes the drug of choice.
The Stages of Alcoholism
• Early Adaptive Stage---This is the stage when the liver and central nervous system adapt to alcohol consumption. Physical tolerance permits the alcoholic to drink excessively without becoming noticeably intoxicated. The drinker may be convivial or morose, quiet or loud and risk-taking. When not drinking, the individual can grow irritable. Withdrawal symptoms appear: anxiety, agitation, insomnia, and loss of appetite are common signs. These symptoms gradually disappear when the blood-alcohol level rises with resumed drinking.
• Physical Dependence Stage---At this stage, withdrawal symptoms are more pronounced as are the signs of physical dependence. The body has become more dependent upon alcohol and it is this dependence that motivates most of the drinking behavior at this stage. The craving for alcohol takes over the normal appetite for food and malnutrition gradually occurs. Without a steady supply of alcohol, more disturbing symptoms appear: tremors, anxiety attacks, loss of memory, and psychological distress.
• The Late Stage of Alcoholism---In the late stage, the liver is not performing well. The alcoholic has little tolerance for alcohol and becomes visibly intoxicated after drinking less than usual. Damage to the stomach, pancreas, and other internal organs occurs. The individual's diet is poor and malnutrition is at an advanced stage, which brings about neurological impairment. Withdrawal symptoms are severe and can be life threatening. Late stage alcohol withdrawal can be more serious than withdrawal from other drugs, such as marijuana, heroin or opioids.
Ironically, the "advantage" of tolerance enables the alcoholic to hide his or her drinking from him or herself and others. Alcoholics may function remarkably well before their disease finally brings them down. The disease may be well established before the consequences of job loss, divorce, financial problems, social isolation and illness occur.
What Kind of Drinker Are You?
This is the question posed by COPE co-founder Dr. Harry Older when he constructed the following self-test. Curious? Take the test about your drinking behavior. Be honest with yourself. If you answer yes to more than two of the questions, you may want to consult with your COPE counselor. You may also want to talk with your doctor. However, while some physicians are excellent diagnosticians of alcoholism, others are not.
1. Was there ever a time in your life when you were using more alcohol than was good for you?
2. Have other people ever said you should cut down on your drinking?
3. Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
4. Have you ever felt guilty about your drinking?
5. Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (an eye-opener)?
6. Do you become a different person when you drink? How? Are you angrier? More violent? How violent? Do you hit walls? Do you hit people? Drive recklessly?
7. Does it take more alcohol to get you loaded now than it used to, or does it take less?
8. Do you ever set limits for yourself, like no more than 2 or 3 drinks, and find when you get to that point, you do not want to stop or cannot stop?
Contact us if you recognize any of the symptoms above in yourself, or encourage a friend to get help if you believe they would benefit from guidance. Send an email to email@example.com.