The holiday season often shines a light on issues that can be more easily avoided during the rest of the year. Financial and family stresses, loneliness, and resolutions to make the New Year better lead to reflection on personal wellbeing. Problems with binge drinking, alcohol abuse, and alcoholism may come to the forefront when events that feature social drinking are on almost everyone’s calendar. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a few drinks with friends and family on special occasions, but for too many Americans every day is a “special occasion.” About 18 million adults in the U.S. have an alcohol problem, according to the National Institute of Health, and at least 38 million drink in excess. Chances are good that everyone reading this article knows someone — perhaps themselves — who suffers from the disease of alcoholism or alcohol abuse.
Alcoholism is defined as a chronic disease with symptoms that include a strong craving for alcohol, the inability to control drinking, and continued use despite the chaos it causes. Symptoms of alcohol abuse, which precedes alcoholism, include a failure to meet daily responsibilities, having legal problems related to drinking, and drinking in dangerous situations, on the job, or when supervising children. Liver damage, pancreatitis, cancers, psychological disorders, depression, dementia, and violence including homicide and suicide are some of the health problems caused by alcohol abuse and addiction. Social and family problems caused by alcohol may be even more difficult to cope with than health problems. Alcoholism tears families apart, increases incidences of domestic violence and child abuse, and can leave emotional scars that never heal. About 2.5 million Americans die from alcohol-related issues each year, and the disease shortens the lives of those who die by an average of about 30 years.
If you or someone you know displays the following symptoms, it’s time to get real about alcoholism:
· Unable to control the amount you drink
· Wanting to reduce alcohol use, but being unable to
· Spending a lot of time focused on alcohol – Where to get it, when to drink, recovering from drinking
· Continuing to drink even though it causes health or family problems
· Experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, sweating, or shaking when you don’t drink
Help is available. Though it can never be “cured,” alcoholism is a disease that can be managed. Visit the SLO County website for information on drug and alcohol services in San Luis Obispo County or speak to your doctor.