Alcoholism begins in insidious ways

Alcoholism is a very scary word! It gives the picture of a socially and functionally ruined person who is also seriously ill because of drinking too much for too long. Alcoholics seem to be on a path of no return. But that is an extreme case of alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse. It begins with lesser degrees of disruption of normal life : for example,one can not stop drinking once they start or family feels that you are drinking too much now. So is there a more formal way of finding out whether you are getting into the problem drinking area? Yes, there is, read below to understand what are the different aspects of problem drinking and how to categorize your drinking habits

What are the different aspects of problem drinking (alcoholism) ?

At risk drinking :

This means you regularly drink more than the low risk drinking cut off defined for men and women. It puts you at a risk of alcohol related health issues, which include ill effects on liver, heart, brain and nutrition level (read: harmful health effects of alcohol). At risk drinking can progress to alcohol dependence or alcohol abuse, or it may silently keep effecting your health. Compare your drinking pattern to low risk cut offs now

Some lab tests help your doctor assess the level of health hazards due to drinking. These include liver enzyme tests such as GGT, AST and ALT , carbohydrate deficient transferrin and uric acid levels. In addition you may need tests for nutritional deficiencies and metabolic syndrome etc. Talk to your doctor about it

Alcohol dependence :

This means that you are developing tolerance to alcohol as well as psychological dependence. Tolerance means that for the same level of high you need to drink more and more. Psychological dependence means that you crave alcohol more and more. Together these push one towards being drunk and occupied with thoughts of drinking most of the time. If your answer to three or more of the questions below is ‘yes’, you are developing alcohol dependence

In the past one year, have you

  1. needed more than your usual number f drinks to get high OR  not felt high if you stick to your usual number of drinks ?
  2. ended up drinking more than you intended, many times ?
  3. failed to cut down, even when you wanted/ decided to?
  4. spent a lot of time arranging for drinks and recovering from the drinking episode?
  5. given up on other recreational, social or occupational activities because of drinking?
  6. drank to avoid the symptoms you get if you do not drink for a day or a few hours? These include shaking of hands, loss of sleep, feeling of vomiting, sweating and palpitations, anxiety or restlessness, illusions or hallucinations o even fits
  7. continued drinking even when you know it lands you in some trouble?

Alcohol abuse :

Alcohol abuse  causes  disruption to your personal or social life and can lead to legal issues as well. It signifies that your behavior when you drink is risky or maladaptive and can compromise your work or family life. It can be present even when your drinking pattern is ‘low risk’ in terms of number of drinks.

If you already have alcohol dependence, then alcohol abuse is part of the bigger problem that is alcohol dependence. But even if you don’t have alcohol dependence, take alcohol abuse as a wake up call !

If your answer to any one of these questions is yes, you could be having alcohol abuse problems

In the last one year have you: 

  1. Driven your vehicle or operated machinery under the influence of alcohol, many times ?
  2. Been detained for drinking and disruption?
  3. Continued drinking even when it has lead to arguments with spouse/ partner or fights in the family?
  4. Continued drinking even when your work has suffered because of it OR when it has stopped you from fulfilling your duties to family/ children?

What to do if you or someone in the family/friends has ‘problem drinking’ or alcoholism ?

That giving up on drinking or abstinence should be the answer to problem drinking is a no brainer ! But, it is not easy and often people with problem drinking need more formal help in their attempt to reclaim life. The level of help depends on the level of dependence, severity of withdrawal symptoms and other health conditions

The tools available to your doctor for alcohol cessation are: counselling, psychotherapy especially CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and drugs (naltrexone, acamproste etc.) to help in the quit attempt. Some of these medicines can be started when the person is drinking and help reduce the urge to drink and some others are started when the patient is already abstaining. Discuss with your doctor

In people who have alcohol dependence, the withdraw symptoms, which come after abstaining from drinking for a few hours up to 5-7 days, can be very severe, even life threatening. Therefore, it is best that they are under continuous  medical care

For people who do not have withdrawal symptoms or alcohol dependence groups such as AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) make help significantly.

We suggest that you seek at least a discussion with your doctor before you o for a quit attempt