By: Dr. Charmagne Anne Sunico
Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, is a disease that causes craving (a strong need to drink), loss of control (not being able to stop drinking once you’ve started), physical dependence (withdrawal symptoms), and tolerance (the need to drink more alcohol to feel the same effect). With alcohol abuse, you are not physically dependent, but you still have a serious problem. The drinking may cause problems at home, work, or school. It may cause you to put yourself in dangerous situations, or lead to legal or social problems.
Unhealthy alcohol use includes any alcohol use that puts your health or safety at risk or causes other alcohol-related problems. It also includes binge drinking — a pattern of drinking where a male consumes five or more drinks within two hours or a female drinks at least four drinks within two hours. Binge drinking causes significant health and safety risks. Alcohol use disorder can be mild, moderate or severe, based on the number of symptoms you experience.
Recognizing that you have a drinking problem is the first step toward being alcohol-free. Talk with your doctor about your drinking. Your doctor can help you find the best treatment. You may have tried to stop drinking many times in the past and feel you have no control over it, or you may be thinking about stopping, but you’re not sure if you’re ready to start. Change takes place in stages and over time.
To help you control your drinking stay away from people you normally drink with or places where you would drink, plan activities you enjoy that do not involve drinking, keep alcohol out of your home, follow your plan to handle your urges to drink (remind yourself why you decided to quit), talk with someone you trust when you have the urge to drink, and create a polite but firm way of refusing a drink when you are offered one.
Support from Others
After talking about your drinking with your doctor or a counselor, you will likely be referred to an alcohol support group or recovery program. These programs teach people about alcohol use and its effects, offer counseling and support about how to stay away from alcohol, provide a space where you can talk with others who have drinking problems. You can also seek help and support from trusted family members and friends who do not drink, your place of work, which may have an employee assistance program or an EAP (an EAP can help employees with personal issues such as alcohol use), and support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): www.aa.org.
You may also see a doctor or a counselor specializing in addictive behavior to help you with the symptoms of withdrawing from alcohol. Think of overcoming this disorder not in terms of years or decades, but one day at a time. Soon you will find that as the days go by, you will have passed the weeks, the months and soon the years, alcohol-free.
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