Today, alcohol is a legal drug of choice for millions of Americans who deny their addiction. And as economic and social circumstances exacerbate Americans’ personal problems, it shows no signs of abating. College kids return from spring break sporting T-shirts that announce “I don’t have a drinking problem. I drink. I get drunk. I fall down. No problem.” The jolly drunk plays the fall guy in movies and television and gets laughs in the process. But, alcoholism is no laughing matter. Like addiction to any other substance, it sometimes requires full-time residential treatment to produce a lifetime cure (rather, abstinence). The Ark Treatment Centers provide a full gamut of services that recognize that alcoholism is a disease with dependency issues that require both physiological as well as psychological treatment.
Effects of Alcohol Dependence
Alcoholism is really alcohol dependence and as such, it is a disease that produces physiological effects that include…
- Craving: A strong need, or urge, to drink.
- Loss of control: Not being able to stop drinking once drinking has begun.
- Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness and anxiety after stopping drinking.
- Tolerance: The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get “high.”1
As these effects show, alcoholism is clearly a disease. The craving that an alcoholic feels for alcohol can be as strong as the need for food or water. An alcoholic will continue to drink despite serious family, health, or legal problems. Remember, it is a chronic disease that can last a lifetime, following a predictable course. Both a person’s genetic disposition and his or her lifestyle are key factors whether a person’s drinking can or will lead to alcoholism. But, because it is a “disease of choice” those factors will have no affect if that person never takes that first drink. And because of its affects on both the body and the mind, a true alcoholic is never really “cured.” Most 12-step programs all bear that out, as does the research. A “cured person” will simply confess “I am sober now for 15 years (or some other length of time).”
Treatment for Alcoholism
Treatment for alcoholism works for many people. But like other chronic illnesses, success can vary. At the Ark, our residential treatment is also augmented with day treatment, intermittent treatment (weekly or otherwise) and lifetime followup at no additional charge. We recognize that some people can stop drinking and remain sober, while others may have long periods of sobriety followed by bouts of relapse. With any treatment treatment, however one thing is clear, however: the longer a person abstains from alcohol, the more likely he or she will be able to stay sober.
Often, a medical doctor or a psychiatrist may choose to prescribe specific oral medications to treat the physiological effects of this disease such as disulfiram (Antabuse®), naltrexone (Depade®, ReVia®), and acamprosate (Campral®). In addition, an injectable, long-acting form of naltrexone (Vivitrol®) is available. These medications have been shown to help people with dependence reduce their drinking, avoid relapse to heavy drinking, and achieve and maintain abstinence.
It is also important to remember that a drinking problem doesn’t have to be a full-blown case of alcoholism. A person can abuse alcohol without actually being an alcoholic—that is, he or she may drink too much and too often but still not be “physically” dependent on alcohol. Some of the problems linked to alcohol abuse include not being able to meet work, school, or family responsibilities; drunk-driving arrests and car crashes; and drinking-related medical conditions. Under many circumstances, even social or moderate drinking is dangerous—for example, when driving, during pregnancy, or when taking certain medications.
Signs of Alcohol Dependency
The important thing is to recognize if you or someone you love needs professional treatment. Here are some signs to look for:
- Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
- Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
- Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?
One “yes” answer suggests a possible alcohol problem. More than one “yes” answer means it is highly likely that a problem exists. If so, you may want to talk to a professional to determine what level of treatment or assistance is appropriate. We can help you make this evaluation when you visit the Ark.
Often someone with a serious drinking problem, or even a full-blown case of alcoholism, refuses help. Experts say there are some things you can do to help:
- Stop all “cover ups.” Family members often make excuses to others or try to protect the alcoholic from the results of his or her drinking. It is important to stop covering for the alcoholic so that he or she experiences the full consequences of drinking.
- Time your intervention. The best time to talk to the drinker is shortly after an alcohol-related problem has occurred–like a serious family argument or an accident. Choose a time when he or she is sober, both of you are fairly calm, and you have a chance to talk in private.
- Be specific. Tell the family member that you are worried about his or her drinking. Use examples of the ways in which the drinking has caused problems, including the most recent incident.
- State the results. Explain to the drinker what you will do if he or she doesn’t go for help–not to punish the drinker, but to protect yourself from his or her problems. What you say may range from refusing to go with the person to any social activity where alcohol will be served, to moving out of the house. Do not make any threats you are not prepared to carry out.
- Get help. Gather information in advance about treatment options in your community. If the person is willing to get help, call immediately for an appointment with a treatment counselor. Offer to go with the family member on the first visit to a treatment program and/or an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
- Call on a friend. If the family member still refuses to get help, ask a friend to talk with him or her using the steps just described. A friend who is a recovering alcoholic may be particularly persuasive, but any person who is caring and nonjudgmental may help. The intervention of more than one person, more than one time, is often necessary to coax an alcoholic to seek help.
- Find strength in numbers. With the help of a health care professional, some families join with other relatives and friends to confront an alcoholic as a group. This approach should only be tried under the guidance of a health care professional who is experienced in this kind of group intervention.
- Get support. It is important to remember that you are not alone. Support groups offered in most communities include Al-Anon, which holds regular meetings for spouses and other significant adults in an alcoholic’s life, and Alateen, which is geared to children of alcoholics. These groups help family members understand that they are not responsible for an alcoholic’s drinking and that they need to take steps to take care of themselves, regardless of whether the alcoholic family member chooses to get help.