What Is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence, is a disease that includes the following four symptoms:
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.”
Is Alcoholism a Disease?
Yes, alcoholism is 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.
Can Alcoholism Be Treated?
Yes, alcoholism can be treated. Alcoholism treatment programs may use counseling and medications to help a person stop drinking. Treatment has helped many people stop drinking and rebuild their lives.
Do You Have to Be an Alcoholic to Experience Problems?
People who drink can blow through a family budget, cause fights, ignore children, and otherwise impair the health and happiness of the people they love.
Alcoholism within a family is a problem that can drive a wedge between members, as well as ruin friendships.
If an Alcoholic Is Unwilling to Get Help, What Can Be Done?
This can be a challenge. An alcoholic can’t be forced to get help except under certain circumstances, such as a traffic violation or arrest that results in court-ordered treatment. But you don’t have to wait for someone to “hit rock bottom” to act. Following are some steps you may try to help an alcoholic get treatment:
Stop all "cover ups."
Drinkers 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.
Tell the drinker 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.
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 drinker 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.
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.
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 chooses to get help.
Where Can I Start Finding Help?
There are many national and local resources that can help. The National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service provides a toll-free telephone number, 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357), offering various resource information. Through this service you can speak directly to a representative concerning substance abuse treatment, request printed material on alcohol or other drugs, or obtain local substance abuse treatment referral information in your state.
How Do I Know If I Am an Alcoholic?
Alcoholism is a specific type of addiction.
Here, addiction is defined as:
The repeated involvement with alcohol despite the substantial harm it now causes. That involvement was (and may continue to be) pleasurable and/or valuable regardless of the damage done to yourself and others.
Is this true for you?