Signs and Symptoms: Telltale signs of an alcohol problem


The argument escalates into a full-blown fight . . . when you or a loved one has been drinking. You or they seem to be losing touch at work, at home, or with friends. Relationships are strained. How do you know when drinking too much is really too much?

It’s easy to become lulled into a false sense of security. Alcohol is a part of many people’s lives. Many assume it’s part of any social event. Many assume they’re expected to drink.

Some 22.6 million people 12 or older have substance abuse or dependence problems, the U.S. Health and Human Services reports based on 2006 data. Some 15.6 million people overused alcohol, another 3.8 million abused illicit drugs and 3.2 million overused both.

Moderate drinking – up to two drinks a day for a man, or one drink a day for a woman or older person – usually doesn’t cause a real problem, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says. But some people shouldn’t drink at all – among them pregnant women, those under 21, those on medications that might react to it, and recovering alcoholics. The institute suggests no more than three drinks on a given day or seven drinks a week for healthy women and those older than 65. For healthy men, the recommendation is no more than four drinks on a given day or 14 drinks a week.

So what are the telltale signs of a problem? Dr. Ernesto Uy, who practices internal medicine at Watson Clinic in Lakeland, says there are behavioral issues like anxiety, depression, insomnia, psychological and social dysfunction, marital problems, social isolation or withdrawal, domestic violence, alcohol-related problems, loss of interest in non-drinking activities, employment problems, blackouts, trauma, and vehicular accidents. Physical problems include anorexia, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, gastrointestinal bleeding, headaches, palpitations, impotence, menstrual irregularities, infertility and fractures, Dr. Uy points out.

“Typically, the first major life problem from excessive alcohol use appears in early adulthood, followed by periods of exacerbation and remission,” Dr. Uy explains. “Early education, counseling and treatment with a strong family support is important.”

A major risk factor is genetic, with other risk factors being depression, anxiety and other substance abuse. “Involving family and friends, church is very important. Love, support, religion plays a very important part,” Dr. Uy advises. “They play an important role in reducing and improving the risk factors mentioned earlier that increase their risk for alcohol use and relapse.”

Alcohol abuse is indicated when there are repetitive social, interpersonal, legal and job problems, or repeated use of alcohol in hazardous situations, he says. A person is dependent on alcohol if there are problems in at least three of seven areas in a year: Tolerance (more alcohol is required for the same effect), withdrawal, drinking more than planned, persistent efforts to stop or reduce drinking, spending a lot of time getting alcohol, drinking it or recovering from it, sacrificing non-alcohol activities, and continuing use despite problems, Dr. Uy shares.

The drinker may be incapable of seeing the need for help, while family members may lull themselves into a false hope that drinking will stop. Sometimes there is an underlying mental disorder they are self-medicating through alcohol.

“Alcohol is the most prevalent, probably because it is most readily available,” says Zoraida Colon-Collado, a development and marketing executive for the non-profit Tri-County Human Services Inc., a Lakeland-based treatment organization serving Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties. “It silences the voices in your head and whatever else is going on.”

She describes alcoholism as a progressive disease, meaning it’s best to deal with a drinking problem before it escalates into alcohol-related problems to your brain, heart, liver, pancreas, or immune system. “It’s not just going to stop. It has to be addressed,” she asserts.

Experts recommend seeing a doctor, educating family members through the family support group Al-Anon, and intervention through Alcoholics Anonymous, a support group for those who want to stop drinking.

Intervention involves visiting the drinker with AA members who know how to deal with the problem, she says. If that doesn’t work, a Florida law called the Marchman Act gives folks the right to petition the court to force treatment.

“It can help if they are not capable of making a logical choice,” explains Colon-Collado. “They are not necessarily going to love you and kiss you because you did this for them in the beginning. You have to be ready to withstand that, knowing that what you are doing is saving their life.”


Locate treatment at or through the National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).





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