No one picks up their first beer, sips their first glass of wine, or throws back their first shot of whisky and boldly declares, "Alas! I am going to become a slobbering, falling-down, hopeless, messy drunk!" Nope. Alcohol abuse doesn't happen that way. Abuse begins with the innocent and curious experimentation with a highly glamorized substance that has become intertwined with the fabric of the American story.
Think about it. Booze is served at parties and social gatherings to "liven things up." It is toasted at weddings so loved ones can shout a joyful "cheers!" to the newlywed couple. Beer is sold at sporting events where hundreds gather to root for their favorite team. Liquor is offered at business functions where professionals meet to talk shop. Wine is often given as a housewarming gift to new homeowners. Alcohol is consumed by new fathers as they welcome sons and daughters into the world. Conversely, drinks are served after funerals so family and friends can numb the pain after saying goodbye to their dearly departed. Alcohol, alcohol. Everywhere we look, alcohol.
Why is it, then, that so many people are shocked to learned that the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that more than 15 million people in America (which many suggest is a lowball estimate) are addicted to alcohol? Why are so many people appalled when someone close to them develops an addiction to it? Really, when you think about it, the surprising thing about alcohol is that more people don't find themselves hopelessly hooked on the stuff.
Although it doesn't make front page news like heroin, cocaine, or meth addiction, alcohol addiction runs rampant in the United States. It's no wonder we don't see the same kind of news coverage of alcohol abuse that we do when it comes to other addictions. After all, if America got honest about how incredibly dangerous this adult beverage really is, it would kind of spoil the party, wouldn't it? If we started having some earnest conversations about the devastating effects alcohol can have on the mind, body and spirit, maybe we wouldn't serve it at parties anymore. Maybe we would stay sober at the ballpark. Maybe we would drink punch at the wedding.
Maybe this wouldn't be such a bad idea.
The harsh reality is that alcohol is a drug. Period. It affects the brain and the body in powerful ways just like heroin, cocaine, and meth does. Beer, liquor, and wine are physically addictive and cause withdrawal. Alcohol causes irreversible damage to major organs. It causes premature death. This is not propaganda. This is science.
Not only does alcohol cause damage to the physical body of the person who abuses it, America's favorite party beverage rips through families. It creates financial devastation and causes the loss of employment. Liquor brings about legal problems and is at the root of major problems societal problems.
Here are some fast facts about alcohol addiction:
These statistics are alarming. Yet, they go largely overlooked. Despite the glaring evidence that alcohol is a dangerous and harmful substance; Americans of all ages, cultural backgrounds, and education levels continue to raise their glasses high and throw back shots, beers, and glasses of wine - one after the intoxicating other. The outcome? Alcohol addiction.
Alcohol abuse develops over time and is highly underestimated among addictions. As we've mentioned, alcohol consumption is encouraged in our society. Booze is offered at the convenience store. It is advertised on billboards, television, and on the radio. People drink the stuff with people they trust and love most. It's easy to have a problem with alcohol and not even know it.
When you think about illegal substances like cocaine, heroin, or meth, your mind immediately conjures certain images. You instantly get a sense of "not okayness" when it comes to these drugs. Illegal drugs are used in secret. They are dealt in dark alleyways by the shadowy types of figures you were warned about growing up. It is easy to associate illegal drugs with having a problem. Although people who become addicted to drugs may experience some level of denial, most have a general idea almost from the beginning that their behavior is problematic.
This is not true for people who abuse alcohol.
Someone with an alcohol problem can abuse the stuff for years and not know they are abusing it. This is often explained by the fact that the abuse takes place in the company of well-meaning friends and family members who don't see a problem. Where mom and dad would immediately raise concern if their son or daughter brought a crack pipe to the house and started smoking it, these same loving parents don't raise an eyebrow when that same son or daughter brings over a six-pack.
This is not to say the family and friends of alcoholics are to blame for the disease of their loved one. Not at all. It is simply important to make this point because we all need to understand that our societal views of the use alcohol have shaped the way we see its use. This has caused us to explain away alcohol abuse where it should be cause for concern.
If you are wondering if you or someone you care about might have a problem with booze, you might be right….. but you might be hesitant to conclude that alcohol abuse is present because you have been preconditioned to believe that its consumption is okay/normal/healthy/fun/the American way.
Maybe it's time for another look.
Those who don't have a problem with alcohol don't sit around wondering if they do. That's just the stark reality of the situation. When people begin to realize they feel powerless over their use of alcohol, they start to wonder if they have an addiction problem. When drinkers feel as if their lives have become unmanageable because of alcohol, they ask themselves if they are abusing it.
If you're reading this article, you may be in the precontemplation stage of changing your behavior and quitting alcohol. This is good news. Awareness is the first step toward making a positive change and getting help for a problem with an addiction to alcohol. Before awareness takes hold, denial runs the show- baffling, weird, crippling, insane denial.
Although there may be overwhelming evidence that a problem exists, denial is the defense mechanism in the brain that tells the alcohol abuser there is no problem. Denial can last for years. If the light of truth is beginning to shine through the darkness of denial, you could well be on your way to a bright recovery.
Alcohol addiction can leave you confused and going back and forth in your mind…..do I have a problem, or don't I? Do I? Don't I? I do! No I don't! Sound familiar? Let's get you unconfused.
Here are some signs you may be abusing alcohol:
This list is not all inclusive and is only meant to represent a few of the signs related to alcohol abuse.
Once someone becomes physically addicted to alcohol, he or she is in real trouble. Booze negatively affects almost every major organ in the body. It especially wreaks havoc on the brain, heart, liver, pancreas, kidneys, and bladder. Surprisingly, most addiction experts agree that prolonged and severe alcohol consumption is worse for the body long term than an addiction to heroin, cocaine, opiates, or methamphetamines.
It is an extremely uncomfortable experience - almost unbearable, which is why people who are addicted to alcohol continue to abuse it. Depending on the amount of alcohol being consumed and the frequency of consumption, severe withdrawal can cause seizures, stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, and even death. Yes, alcohol withdrawal can cause death. Quite often, a medically supervised detox is necessary to ensure a safe withdrawal from alcohol abuse.
Here's the deal - if you or someone you love has an addiction to alcohol, outside help is a necessity. Whether it's peer support through AA, or the kind of help that is offered by addiction experts at a professional addiction treatment center, an alcoholic requires a whole lot more than sheer willpower. To be sure, an alcohol abuser cannot quit drinking alone.
Let's keep it simple. Here's what to do if you are looking to a solution to alcohol abuse:
The first step to treating substance abuse is admitting there is a problem. Whether you are the person abusing alcohol, or you are in a relationship with an alcoholic, it's time to get honest with yourself. Coming face-to-face with the reality of the situation invites healing and stops the cycle of denial.
If you are struggling with an alcohol addiction, commit to attending one AA meeting so you can connect with people who have a solution to your problem. If you are in a relationship with someone who has an addiction to alcohol, attend an Al-Anon meeting, which offers support for friends and family of alcoholics.
Talk to an addiction expert. He or she will determine if you need a medically supervised detox and guide you in the right direction.
Although being addicted to alcohol feels hopeless, it is not a hopeless condition. Millions of people across the globe have found healing from alcohol addiction. Recovering from this condition is not only possible, help is readily available at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and quality rehabilitation facilities all over the United States.
To get a deeper perspective on alcohol addiction, read this letter to society from an alcoholic.
Reach out today. We know how hard addiction can be. Recovery is possible!