By Licia Ginne, MFT

man alcoholHow can I tell if alcohol is a problem for me or someone in my life?

Alcohol is a problem if it causes problems in any part of your life. This includes your health, work, social life, causes legal problems and life at home. Often people think you have a problem with alcohol only if you drink all the time, start drinking in the morning or are the falling down drunk you may see in movies or tv. Its not necessarily how much you drink its how you drink. You may have a problem with alcohol if you think about drinking all the time, if you keep trying to quit on your own but can’t, or if you often drink more than you plan to.

Some questions to consider:

Do you feel the need to cut down on your drinking?
Are you trying to control your drinking?
Are you annoyed by criticism of your drinking?
Do you feel guilty about your drinking?
Do you fee hung over, have memory blackouts from drinking?
Do you have legal problems or DUI’s?
Have you lost time from work or lost jobs due to drinking?
Do your relationships suffer from your drinking?
Do you have health problems related to alcohol use?

If you answer yes to 1 or more of the questions, you may have a problem with alcohol.

Who has an alcohol problem?

Many people only think of a “skid-row bum” when they think of someone with an alcohol problem. This is the end stage of alcohol problems, when a person has lost his or her family, job and health because of alcohol abuse. You don’t reach this stage overnight.

You may see less obvious changes along the way, beginning with drinking more than you intended or more than is safe for what you are doing (like driving a car).

Many people find it hard to admit when alcohol is a problem. Often, people around you may see your problem before you do. Think about the things mentioned here. Think about what your friends and family say to you about drinking. Then talk with your family doctor, therapist or counselor about your concerns.

Signs alcohol is a problem:

• Accidents
• Anxiety
• Being unusually suspicious
• Blackouts/memory loss
• Breakdown of relationships
• Depression
• Getting driving tickets
• Insomnia
• Loss of self-esteem
• Not taking care of yourself
• Poor work performance
• Taking sick days for hangovers
• Trembling hands
• Trouble having erections (men)

How does alcohol affect my health?

Alcohol is best known as a cause of cirrhosis, a disease of the liver. However, it has many other effects on your health. It’s a major cause of deaths and injuries due to accidents. It can have severe effects on a baby during pregnancy. It can also cause stomach pain due to a bleeding ulcer or irritated stomach lining. Alcohol has been shown to increase the chances of breast cancer in women.

What causes alcoholism?

The causes of alcoholism are not fully known. A history of alcoholism in your family increases your chances of having an addiction problem. Men seem to be more at risk than women. Some drinkers use alcohol to try to relieve anxiety, depression, tension, loneliness, self-doubt or unhappiness.

Why should I quit?

Quitting is the only way to stop the problems alcohol is causing in your life. You can’t tell if alcohol is causing problems until you stop for at least 6 months so you can assess if alcohol has been causing problems. It may not be easy to quit. But your efforts will be rewarded by better health, better relationships and a sense of accomplishment. As you think about quitting, you may want to make a list of your reasons to quit.

In certain cases it is not physically safe to stop drinking without the supervision of a medical doctor. Please check with your doctor to insure your safety.

To update this article: in the April 20, 2010 of JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association) an article” A 42-Year-Old Man Considering Whether to Drink Alcohol for His Health”, looks at the idea of drinking as medicinal, a reason I have heard enough in working with those who might be abusing alcohol. The article offered the following facts:

The estimated ethanol (alcohol) content per serving of various alcoholic beverages is similar, although their caloric content may vary. Twelve ounces of beer have 14 grams of ethanol and 150 calories, light beer contains 11 grams of ethanol but about 50 calories less; 5 ounces of wine contain 15 grams of ethanol and 120 -125 calories and finally 1.5 ounces of “hard alcohol” or spirits have 14 to 15 grams of ethanol and 100 calories.Because women have a smaller volume of distribution in which to dilute the alcohol, overall smaller body size, and a different first –pass metabolism (alcohol is not as quickly metabolized by the liver), we experience the toxic effects of alcohol at approximately half the daily dose of alcohol as do men. One glass of wine, serving of beer or “a drink” for a woman is like two for a man….so two drinks at dinner would be the equivalent of four for a man. And that’s a number that would cause concern to most of their female companions.Alcoholism has been ranked the third most important preventable cause of death in the United States.The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has issued the following guidelines for safe drinking:
Up to 2 drinks for men younger than 65
Up to one drink per drinking day (I’m not sure what constitutes a drinking day, but it’s their wording) for non-pregnant women and older adults Times when it is not advisable to drink:
Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant
Persons with medical conditions that could be made worse by drinking
Persons who plan to engage in activities that require alertness and skill (such as driving a car)
Persons taking certain over-the-counter or prescription medications (think sleeping medications, anti anxiety medications, anti-depressants, antihistamines, just to name a few)
Persons recovering from alcoholism
Persons younger than 21
I think often the person who has a problem with alcohol will not stop at the one or two drink maximum per day. There are so many variables that lead to is this a problem or not. What I have often noticed with people who have a problem with alcohol is when they are drinking they don’t seem to notice the feeling of being buzzed. People who don’t have a problem will have notice, wow I am buzzed or getting drunk I should stop for a bit, switch to water or slow down.