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What is Alcoholism and or Drug Addiction?

The old line is “I’m not an
alcoholic, I’m just a problem drinker.” There is humor to that
statement, but at the same time sadness. Sometimes the line between
alcohol abuse and alcoholism is a narrow one, but in either case,
alcohol addiction a serious issue.

The narrow line defines a progression from wanting a drink to NEEDING
a drink. Exactly where the line is drawn depends on the individual,
but in simple terms, alcoholism (alcohol addiction) is when the person
craves alcohol and has lost control over how much he/she drinks.

Alcoholism
(alcohol addiction) is a chronic condition, a progressive disease that
can cause a variety of serious health issues and even death. In most
cases, alcoholics experience a physical dependence on alcohol. They
need to drink to receive the effect the alcohol gives them.

A
definition of alcohol abuse or, alcohol addiction is drinking too much.
A person’s drinking may be getting in the way, they might get ticketed
for DUI, they might have some troubles at work or home, but they have
not necessarily lost total control over their lives. Again, it’s
different for each person. It’s a matter of degree. As the condition
progresses, the line becomes more evident.

Alcohol depresses the
central nervous system. At first it may stimulate, but as they
continue to drink, they become sedated. The more sedation, the more risk
for complications such as heart failure, respiratory failure, etc. As
alcohol addiction progresses, it can be life-threatening. If a person
goes on a “bender,” they may be in jeopardy of falling into a coma.

Alcoholism
(alcohol addiction) is a disease that “sneaks” up on its victim. If a
person has another kind of disease, there is a much greater likelihood
that they will admit to being sick. Those abusing alcohol, or are
already in the grip of alcoholism, do not think they have a problem.
That makes the possibility of them receiving treatment more difficult.
If I break my arm, I’ll gladly allow a physician to treat it, but an
alcoholic doesn’t have a problem. It’s your problem.

What to look for in alcohol addiction

One
of the first things to look for is how many times a person wants or
needs a drink. Frequency of drinking is a huge contributing factor.
Perhaps they are slipping away to “sneak” a drink. They drink alone.
They have a small bottle in their desk drawer, or they go into the
restroom to have a drink. Another sign is their inability to control
how much they drink. For the alcoholic, one drink is too many and all
of Lake Michigan isn’t enough.

As drinking becomes a more
important activity in their life, a person loses interest in other
things, in friendships, or will even create an elaborate ritual for
their drinking. Maybe it’s routine for them to hit the bar right after
work, or they make a cocktail before dinner, then they continue drinking
during the meal and after. If you say anything, they get angry. If
they don’t have access to alcohol when they want a drink, or when their
drinking ritual is set to begin, they become angry.

Forgetfulness another sign of alcohol addiction

Another
sign is the person forgetting conversations, or not remembering tasks
at work. You’ve probably heard of someone “blacking out” after
drinking. That’s another indicator. They guzzle drinks, like an athlete
taking Gatoraide on a hot day. While others in the group might order a
regular mixed drink, they order a double. They drink to get drunk,
because drunk is what feels “normal” to them. They want to feel good.

DUI a major cause of traffic deaths

We
mentioned DUI before. I live in Wisconsin and DUI is huge here. The
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reports that nearly half of all traffic deaths in the U.S. are linked to alcohol.
You can see that alcohol abuse and alcoholism are not just personal
problems; they are serious public health problems. Because alcohol
abusers deny they have a problem, their problem becomes everyone’s as
soon as they get into the car and turn the key. In Wisconsin, where I
live, tens of thousands are convicted of a DUI every year.

In
addition to DUI, so many other problems arise for the heavy drinker.
Alcohol abuse gets in the way of marriages, work situations, social
situations. It causes financial troubles and, of course, legal troubles
too.

Drinking takes over and there is no room for reason, no
room for relationships and no room for any action other than what the
alcoholic brain wants. It’s a cruel, unyielding destroyer of lives.

Alcohol Abuse: Must Drink MORE!

Alcoholics
develop a tremendous tolerance to the effects of alcohol. Because of
that, in order to experience the same effect they had before, they need
to drink more. They have no control over how much they drink, because
they “need” more to feel good.

Regardless of what the
alcohol is doing to them physically, they continue to drink. Regardless
of any personal and social consequences, they drink. They have to drink.
In order to help them realize that they have choices, you first need
to remove the access to alcohol.

Take away access to alcohol and
the alcoholic may experience nausea, vomiting, sweating, the “shakes,”
and convulsions. An alcohol abuser, who does not have the physical
dependency on drinking, may or may not suffer these types of withdrawal
symptoms. They do not experience the same kind of craving for alcohol
and the compulsion to drink.

Line between addiction and alcohol abuse varies

Where
the line is between abuse and alcoholism varies. It is crossed when,
in many cases, a person needs a drink as soon as they get up in the
morning.

They may be aware of their drinking and feel guilty
about it, so they keep their drinking a secret. They may be aware that
they need to cut back or stop altogether, but they don’t. When told they
may be having a drinking problem, they get angry.

Any of these situations is a sign that a person might be abusing or already addicted.

One
person can enjoy alcoholic beverages and never become addicted, while
another has one drink and is already in trouble. How is this so? What
causes alcohol addiction?

Alcoholism, like other forms of drug
addiction, is a disease of the brain. The Mayo Clinic explains that
alcoholism causes a gradual alteration in brain chemistry. For example,
the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which controls impulsiveness, and
glutamate, which stimulates the nervous system, are altered by alcohol.
You can see how a person can lose control over their drinking because
the brain’s reward system is changed. The brain is literally tricked
into thinking it needs alcohol to function.

There is also a
genetic component to alcohol addiction. If your parents abused alcohol
or were alcoholics, the chances are good that you are genetically
predisposed to the same condition. The child of an alcoholic is more
prone to using other drugs and becoming addicted. If you look at a
family history of alcoholism, you’ll probably find generations of the
disease.

Low self-esteem may cause alcohol addiction

People
with low self esteem or depression have a higher chance of becoming
alcoholic. If they are in an environment where their friends drink, or
their significant other drinks, they may be at risk for developing
addiction.

The person susceptible to alcohol abuse may be
impacted by the “enablers” in their life. The enablers aren’t
necessarily addicted or in trouble, but the “hurting” person might be
swept along and the disease progresses as a result of that action.

Anxiety
and stress can play a role in the onset of alcoholism. Many may feel
the need to numb their emotional pain and turn to alcohol for the
solution. There is evidence that stress hormones play a part in the
development of alcoholism. There is a void in the life of the alcoholic
and alcohol fills that void.

There are social factors at play. Drinking alcohol is glamorized.
Every sporting event has beer commercials. Drinking the right kind of
vodka makes you sexy and sophisticated. People drink at parties, at ball
games, at social events, and even at church festivals. Drinking is
socially acceptable, but as I stated, in Wisconsin, it’s a big problem.

People
tailgate at Green Bay Packer games and before Milwaukee Brewers games.
They get to the parking lot and start drinking. They get into the ball
park and drink more and by the second half or the sixth inning, a
surprisingly large percentage are drunk. It’s all acceptable. Beer sales
at Miller Park are a huge revenue source. It’s part of the culture and
it’s accepted.

Generally speaking there are some numbers to consider when trying defining how much is too much.

Having
more than 15 drinks a week for men, or 12 drinks a week for women, can
contribute to the development of alcoholism/alcohol addiction.

But
there are more risk factors involved, such as drinking at an early age.
If parents allow their children under 16 to drink, those children are
at greater risk of developing a problem. Men are more likely to become
alcoholics than women.

When should I/they seek help?

People
who are in need of help because of alcohol abuse or alcoholism are not
likely going to ask for it. They are not likely going to admit that
they have a problem. As a friend of family member, you are the one to
take action. One of the first calls you can make is to your doctor for
his/her perspective, but you may also consider calling a local drug and
alcohol treatment center. We are body, mind and spirit, so another
source of support would be your pastor or rabbi. Hospital chaplains are
also good resources.

If a person agrees to treatment, either
willingly or as a result of an intervention, it will be important for
them to receive a physical examination to determine if other medical
issues need to be addressed. There may be medical problems unrelated to
alcohol, but often people have problems and do not reveal that alcohol
is a contributing factor. If a doctor suspects that alcohol is a
contributing factor, he/she will probably ask a series of questions to
get a more complete picture. The doctor will do screening to determine
alcohol addiction or abuse.

It’s not my problem, it’s your problem

Getting
a person with an alcohol addiction into treatment is not an easy task.
The person abusing alcohol or already addicted to alcohol will deny any
problem, or if they do acknowledge a problem, they will minimize the
concern. It might take a group effort to get a recovery plan moving in
the right direction. If your doctor is your first consultant, he/she
may ask the person for permission to speak to family members.
Confidentiality laws prevent the doctor from having that discussion
without consent. That might make matters more difficult.

Another
route is an intervention. As the concerned person, you call a treatment
center for consultation. They will do an assessment of the situation
and are best equipped to take the appropriate action. In another
section we will discuss interventions in greater detail.

In summary, the first Step of the AA 12-Step process is a good
definition for having an alcohol problem or alcohol addiction. “We
admitted that we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become
unmanageable.” Does alcohol get in the way?

Can
a person function without a drink? Do they exhibit any of the signs and
symptoms we presented? If so, we encourage you to seek help. Call a
drug and alcohol treatment center and help your friend of loved one, or
yourself, get on the road to recovery.

Below is a description of how a person descends into drug addiction.

1. Drug/Alcohol sedates value system, which gets indifferent, confused

2. Grandiosity, perfectionism, pride

3. Intolerance of others, suspicion, disgust, argues

4. Religion getting sick, rigid, arrogant, unrealistic, disenchantment with childish idea of God

5. Loses interest in life, “Blues”

6. Guilt feelings, not “at ease” with God

7. Stops daily prayer, attends church out of habit or pretense

8. “Nobodiness” — feels estranged, alienated, lonely

9. Immaturity, some irresponsibility

10. Life has no meaning

11. Anxiety, indefinable fears

12. Resentments: Angry with God, hostile to mention of religion, projects fear into concept of God as a tyrant

13. Moral deterioration: Dishonest, selfish

14. Loss of faith: Consciously rejects God, unconsciously longs for Him, a “sick love” relation

15. Remorse: Depression, suicidal thoughts, impaired thinking

16. Vague spiritual desires

17. Gropes for spiritual meaning

This is a list of how a person can ASCEND into drug addiction recovery and/or recovery from alcoholism.

1. In spiritual fog

2. Honest desire for help

3. Vague notion of Higher Power

4. New faith: “Came to believe”

5. Hope dawns: Can be restored to sanity

6. Thirst for God examined (hard struggle for some)

7. Second BOTTOM: Existential crisis

8. Acceptance (surrender, turnabout)

9. Conversion: “Let go and let God”

10. Trust: “Thy will be done”

11. Appreciates possibility of new way of life

12. Patience: “One day at a time”

13. Forgiveness: Not “Why did I?” but “forgive me”

14. Reconciliation: personal relationship “at ease” with God just

15. Humbly asks God to remove shortcomings

16. False ego deflated

17. Return of self-esteem (God not a rescuer)

18. Honesty: Makes amends

19. Promptly admits when wrong

20. Courage. Optimism, new freedom

21. Rebirth of ideals

22. Appreciation of spiritual values

23. Gratitude

24. Increased tolerance of others

25. Serenity, peace of soul, joy

26. Prayer and meditation

27. Growth in proper concept of God

28. Deeper relation to God as a loving God

29. Unselfish: Goes to others because God loves them

30. “Weller than Well” — higher than believed possible


and Finally Remember:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
– Matthew 7:7-8











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