Alcoholism is a chronic and often progressive disease that includes problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems, having to drink more to get the same effect (physical dependence), or having withdrawal symptoms when you rapidly decrease or stop drinking. If you have alcoholism, you can't consistently predict how much you'll drink, how long you'll drink, or what consequences will occur from your drinking. Help with alcoholism.
It's possible to have a problem with alcohol, even when it has not progressed to the point of alcoholism. Problem drinking means you drink too much at times, causing repeated problems in your life, although you're not completely dependent on alcohol.
Binge drinking &mdash, a pattern of drinking where a male consumes five or more drinks in a row, or a female downs at least four drinks in a row &mdash, can lead to the same health risks and social problems associated with alcoholism. The more you drink, the greater the risks. Binge drinking, which often occurs with teenagers and young adults, may lead to faster development of alcoholism.
If you have alcoholism or you have a problem with alcohol, you may not be able to cut back or quit without help. Denying that you have a problem is usually part of alcoholism and other types of excessive drinking.
Alcoholism signs and symptoms include those below. You may:
Be unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
Feel a strong need or compulsion to drink
Develop tolerance to alcohol so that you need more to feel its effects
Drink alone or hide your drinking
Experience physical withdrawal symptoms &mdash, such as nausea, sweating and shaking &mdash, when you don't drink
Not remember conversations or commitments, sometimes referred to as a "black out"
Make a ritual of having drinks at certain times and become annoyed when this ritual is disturbed or questioned
Be irritable when your usual drinking time nears, especially if alcohol isn't available
Keep alcohol in unlikely places at home, at work or in your car
Gulp drinks, order doubles or become drunk intentionally to feel good, or drink to feel "normal"
Have legal problems or problems with relationships, employment or finances due to drinking
Lose interest in activities and hobbies that used to bring you pleasure
If you binge drink or have other problems with alcohol, you may have many of the signs and symptoms above, although you may not feel as much of a compulsion to drink compared with someone who has alcoholism. Also, you may not have physical withdrawal symptoms when you don't drink. But this pattern of drinking can still cause serious problems and lead to alcoholism. As with alcoholism, you may not be able to quit problem drinking without help.
What is considered one drink?
12 ounces (355 milliliters) of regular beer (about 5 percent alcohol)
8 to 9 ounces (237 to 266 milliliters) of malt liquor (about 7 percent alcohol)
5 ounces (148 milliliters) of wine (about 12 percent alcohol)
Supplements that help with alcoholism
1.5 ounces (44 milliliters) of 80-proof hard liquor (about 40 percent alcohol)
What about my drinking?
If you've ever wondered whether your drinking crosses the line into problem drinking or alcoholism, ask yourself these questions:
If you're a man, do you ever have five or more drinks in a day?
If you're a woman, do you ever have four or more drinks in a day?
Do you ever need a drink to get you started in the morning?
Do you feel guilty about your drinking?
Do you think you need to cut back on how much you drink?
Are you annoyed when other people comment on or criticize your drinking habits?
If you answered yes to even one of these questions, you may have a problem with alcohol.
When to see a doctor
If you feel that you sometimes drink too much or your family is concerned about your drinking, talk with your doctor. See your doctor even if you don't think you have alcoholism, but you're concerned about your drinking or it's causing problems in your life. Other ways to get help include talking with a mental health provider or seeking help from a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Because denial is common, you may not feel like you have a problem with drinking or that you need help to stop. You might not recognize how much you drink or how many problems in your life are related to alcohol use. Listen to family members, friends or co-workers when they ask you to examine your drinking habits or to seek help.
You're likely to start by seeing your primary care doctor or a general practitioner. Because your appointment can be brief, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor:
Consider your drinking habits, taking an honest look at how often and how much you drink. Be prepared to discuss any problems that alcohol may be causing.
Write down any symptoms you've had, including any that may seem unrelated to your drinking.
Write down key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes.
Make a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements that you're taking.
Take a family member or friend along, if possible, to help you remember everything.
Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Prepare a list of questions ahead of time, from most important to least important, to make the most of your time. For excessive drinking or alcoholism, basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Do you think I drink too much or show signs of problem drinking or dependence?
Do you think alcohol could be causing or worsening my other health problems?
Do you think I need to cut back or quit drinking?
What is the best course of action?
Do I need any medical tests for underlying physical problems?
What are the alternatives to the approach that you're suggesting?
Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take home with me? What websites do you recommend?
Would it be helpful for me to meet with a professional experienced in alcohol treatment?
Don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Be ready to answer questions your doctor may ask, which include:
Do you have any family members with alcohol problems?
Do you sometimes drink more than you intend to drink?
Have family members, friends or co-workers ever suggested you need to cut back or quit drinking?
Do you feel like you need to drink more than you previously did to get the same effects?
Have you tried to stop drinking? If so, was it difficult and did you have any withdrawal symptoms?
Have you had legal problems or problems at school, at work or in your relationships that may be related to alcohol use?
Have there been times that you have behaved in a dangerous, harmful or violent way when you've been drinking?
Do you have any physical health problems, such as liver disease or diabetes?
Do you have any mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety?
Many people with alcoholism hesitate to get treatment because they don't recognize they have a problem. An intervention from loved ones can help some people recognize and accept that they need professional help. If you're concerned about a friend or family member who drinks too much, talk to a professional for advice on how to approach that person.
Various treatments may help. Depending on the circumstances, treatment may involve a brief intervention, individual or group counseling, an outpatient program, or a residential inpatient stay.
God help me with alcoholism
The first step is to determine if you have a problem with alcohol. If you haven't lost control over your use of alcohol, treatment may involve reducing your drinking. If you have become addicted, simply cutting back is ineffective. Working to stop the use of alcohol to improve quality of life is the main treatment goal.
Treatment for alcoholism may include:
Detoxification and withdrawal. Treatment for alcoholism may begin with a program of detoxification, which generally takes two to seven days. You may need to take sedating medications to prevent shaking, confusion or hallucinations (delirium tremens), or other withdrawal symptoms. Detoxification is usually done at an inpatient treatment center or a hospital.
Learning skills and establishing a treatment plan. This usually involves alcohol treatment specialists. It may include goal setting, behavior change techniques, use of self-help manuals, counseling and follow-up care at a treatment center.
Psychological counseling. Counseling and therapy for groups and individuals help you better understand your problem with alcohol and support recovery from the psychological aspects of alcoholism. You may benefit from couples or family therapy &mdash, family support can be an important part of the recovery process.
Oral medications. A drug called disulfiram (Antabuse) may help to prevent you from drinking, although it won't cure alcoholism or remove the compulsion to drink. If you drink alcohol, the drug produces a physical reaction that may include flushing, nausea, vomiting and headaches. Naltrexone (Revia), a drug that blocks the good feelings alcohol causes, may prevent heavy drinking and reduce the urge to drink. Acamprosate (Campral) may help you combat alcohol cravings. Unlike disulfiram, naltrexone and acamprosate don't make you feel sick after taking a drink.
Injected medication. Vivitrol, a version of the drug naltrexone, is injected once a month by a health care professional. Although similar medication can be taken in pill form, the injectable version of the drug may be easier for people recovering from alcohol dependence to use consistently.
Continuing support. Aftercare programs and support groups help people recovering from problem drinking or alcoholism to stop drinking, manage relapses and cope with necessary lifestyle changes. This may include medical or psychological care or attending a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Treatment for psychological problems. Alcoholism commonly occurs along with other mental health disorders. You may need talk therapy (psychotherapy or psychological counseling), medications, or other treatment for depression, anxiety or another mental health condition, if you have any of these conditions.
Medical treatment for other conditions. Common medical problems related to alcoholism include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, liver disease and heart disease. Many alcohol-related health problems improve significantly once you stop drinking.
Spiritual practice. People who are involved with some type of regular spiritual practice may find it easier to maintain recovery from alcoholism or other addictions. For many people, gaining greater insight into their spiritual side is a key element in recovery.
Residential treatment programs
For a serious alcohol problem, you may need a stay at a residential treatment facility. Many residential treatment programs include individual and group therapy, participation in alcoholism support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, educational lectures, family involvement, activity therapy, and working with counselors, professional staff and doctors experienced in treating alcoholism.
Many people who have alcoholism and their family members find that participating in support groups is an essential part of coping with the disease, preventing or dealing with relapses, and staying sober.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a self-help group of people recovering from alcoholism. AA offers a sober peer group as an effective model for achieving total abstinence. The AA program is built around 12 steps, which are straightforward suggestions for people who choose to lead sober lives. As guides to recovery, the 12 steps help those with alcoholism to accept their powerlessness over alcohol. They stress the necessity for honesty about the past and present.
Recovery in AA is based on accepting the unique experience of each person. Through listening and sharing stories, people who have problem drinking or are dependent on alcohol learn they aren't alone. There are no fees for membership or requirements for following the 12 steps &mdash, only a willingness to try to remain sober.
Al-Anon and Alateen
Al-Anon is designed for people who are affected by someone else's alcoholism. In sharing their stories, they gain a greater understanding of how the disease affects the entire family. Al-Anon accepts the 12 steps of AA as the principles by which participants are to conduct their lives. It also emphasizes the need to learn detachment and forgiveness. In many communities, Alateen groups also are available for teenage children of those with alcoholism.
Your doctor or counselor can refer you to an AA group or other local support group. These groups are also commonly listed in the phone book, in the local newspaper and on the Web.