“It’s only one drink.” How many times have we heard that statement from others or told it to ourselves? For some, it actually does mean one drink; however, for about 16 million adults and almost 700,000 adolescents in the U.S., one drink turns into an alcohol use disorder (SAMHSA, 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health). Alcoholism can develop through many different avenues, such as, genetics, upbringing, social stressors, and mental health. Some cultures and families are at a higher risk of developing alcoholism based on their genetic makeup.
So, what’s the difference? Why can I stop at one drink, but my friend cannot? Do I have an alcohol problem? How do I help my Mom realize that she has a problem? There are so many questions surrounding alcoholism, and the important thing is to ask them. Let’s be brave and keep the conversation going.
I’m “normal,” right?
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines normal use as:
Women: No more than 3 drinks per day, and no more than 7 drinks per week
Men: No more than 4 drinks per day, and no more than 14 drinks per week
Okay, so maybe I’m not normal…
Alcohol abuse takes place when drinking is creating problems for someone, but there is no dependence on the alcohol, and there are no withdrawal effects once the use subsides. Alcoholism, on the other hand, means that the person is having negative effects from alcohol, is dependent on it, and when they are not able to drink, they experience uncomfortable withdrawal effects.
Am I at risk of developing an alcohol use disorder? Here are a few indicators, thoughts, and behaviors that could lead to problem drinking.
1. I have a family member who struggles with alcoholism.
2. I struggle emotionally, and sometimes alcohol “evens me out,” or “makes being around other people a little easier.”
3. I have a difficult time stopping drinking once I’ve gotten started.
4. Sometimes I just feel the need to drink.
5. My loved ones keep bringing up my drinking. Sometimes I feel so ashamed and guilty about it.
Most importantly, if alcohol is making your life more complicated and difficult, then it has become a problem.
So, after reading a few signs and symptoms, you may have realized that you or someone you know may be experiencing this struggle. Congratulations on taking the first step of making yourself aware of the issue. There are treatment facilities, support groups, meetings, and counsellors who are trained and ready to help. Take control!
What I’ve learned through my loved ones’ addictions:
1. Know that we cannot force our loved ones to address their alcohol problem.
2. There is more to the alcoholic/addict than the substance. Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, or Bipolar Disorder could be going untreated.
3. Know that the more you push your loved one to change, the further they will push you away. Come alongside of them and meet them where they are.
4. “Sobriety” is a temporary state, while “Recovery” is a lifelong process and battle.
5. Love them, even when it’s difficult. Tell them.
About the Author: Alyssa Baker is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate. Along with practicing at the South Shore Center for Couples and Families, she works as a Behavioral Specialist as a part of an Integrative Medicine fellowship with UTMB Family Medicine in Galveston. Alyssa has experience working with individuals, couples, families, and groups with a variety of stressors; including, mood disorders, chronic medical conditions, substance abuse, and relational struggles.