It is everywhere.  You cannot go to the grocery store, pharmacy, or even to family picnics without seeing alcohol.   It is on television and in the movies and for most people, it is part of their culture. Because alcohol can be so accessible, there are millions of people who are using alcohol on a regular basis.  In fact, it is estimated that in 2005 over 126 million people ages 12 years old and older have used alcohol in the last 30 days, which is an increase from the previous year with heaviest users being between the ages of 21 and 35 (OASA, 2008).  With more people drinking alcohol, a higher number of people develop problems related to alcohol.  If you or a family member suspect that there are problems related to alcohol, there are steps you can take to help.


The Effects of Alcohol


How quickly alcohol affects a person varies based on age, sex, weight, food consumption prior to drinking, and usage of alcohol.  Some of the more common effects can include impaired motor movement, such as ability to walk and fine motor skills.  When people use alcohol, there is also impairment with their cognitive abilities that include slurred speech, impaired judgment and reasoning, impaired memory, and slowed reaction times.  These are just some of the more immediate effects of alcohol when it is first consumed.  The more someone consumes, the more pronounced these impairments become.  People have experienced “black outs” when they are unable to recall their actions while intoxicated or passed out in places or in situations that put them at risk.  In some cases, excessive drinking has led to alcohol poisoning and death.


When is Alcohol a Problem?

Many people drink alcohol.  Some people may only have one drink and usually when there is a special occasion like a wedding.  After that, they may have no other contact with alcohol, and consuming alcohol is hardly on their mind.  Then there are other people who drink more regularly.  They may drink alcohol daily or they may space out their drinking to twice a week or twice a month.  It is something that they find themselves thinking about often.

Someone who abuses alcohol regularly will demonstrate the following symptoms:

  • Because of your alcohol use, your work productivity has decreased or suffered;
  • You have had excessive absences or been increasingly late to work;
  • You have been neglecting your responsibilities at home;
  • Due to your alcohol use, you have been taking unnecessary risks, like drinking and driving;
  • Excessive drinking has resulted in you having black-outs, when you do not remember what happened when you were drinking previously;
  • There have been some legal problems resulting from your alcohol use;
  • Your alcohol use has resulted in getting into physical fights or more verbal arguments with family or friends;
  • Your drinking continues despite health problems attributed to your alcohol use.

For some people, the use of alcohol becomes more steady and widespread. Their use of alcohol moves from abuse to dependency. The symptoms of Alcohol Dependency are:

  • You find your tolerance has increased, and you need to drink more alcohol to get the same effect;
  • When you are not drinking, you experience withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, shakes, hand tremors, anxiety, sweating, and/or headaches;
  • Your cravings or desire for alcohol make it difficult or impossible to control or stop your alcohol use;
  • You are spending more time engaging in alcohol related activities such as drinking, purchasing the alcohol, and recovering from your last use;
  • Due to your alcohol use, you have been taking unnecessary risks, like drinking and driving;
  • There are excessive absences at work and decreased productivity that have resulted in disciplinary actions, such as warnings, suspensions, or terminations;
  • Your use of alcohol has replaced activities that you enjoyed doing;
  • You continue to use alcohol despite recurrent or chronic health problems attributed to your alcohol use.

Risk Factors

There are some factors that can increase the risk of some people abusing alcohol and/or developing a dependence on it.

  • Family History: Having family members, like parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings who abuse drugs and alcohol can increase your chances of developing problems with alcohol and/or drugs.  Research has shown that there is a genetic link that can predispose someone to developing a problem.
  • Age of Onset: The younger you are when starting to use alcohol, the greater the likelihood that you will have problems with alcohol when you are an adult.
  • Gender: Men are three times more likely to develop problems with alcohol than women.
  • Psychological: People who have mental health related issues like depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia are more likely to use alcohol to self-medicate their problems.
  • Other Substance Use: Having used other drugs like nicotine in cigarettes, and illicit drugs, can make you more susceptible to developing an addiction to alcohol.
  • Environmental Factors: If you live in an area where alcohol is more readily accessible, have people around drinking constantly, or where drinking heavily is part of the cultural norm, the chances of developing a problem with alcohol is greater.
  • Friends: The people with whom you associate can also influence your drinking habits. If your friends are heavily into drinking alcohol, then you are more likely to develop a problem with alcohol.
  • Stress: Being overwhelmed with stress such as financial, legal, or family related issues, and if you have difficulty managing stress, the likelihood of developing a problem with alcohol can increase.

Some of these factors alone may not be enough for someone to develop a problem with alcohol, and they are certainly not absolute causes. However, a lot of these risk factors can play off each other.  For example, if you are overwhelmed with some stresses like finances, there is plenty of access to alcohol, and you learned to deal with stress by avoiding it, the end result may be you using alcohol to deal with the stress.

Hazards of Alcohol Use

For people who have problems controlling their drinking, they feel there are some benefits to their use.  They may like the sensations that it gives them.  They may like how it relaxes them, how they feel more confident in social situations, or it may simply help them sleep more peacefully. Whatever their reasons for using alcohol, there are some costs that have to be considered and weighed, as well.  Those costs can be:

  • Higher rates of being terminated from employment
  • Difficulty finding employment
  • Higher rates of domestic violence
  • Legal and financial difficulties
  • DUI offenses
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Alcohol related dementia
  • Memory related problems, including increased confusion
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Nutritional and vitamin deficiencies
  • Increased risks for certain types of cancer
  • Increased risk for neuropathy that can affect sensation and motor coordination 

Treating Alcohol Abuse/Dependency

There are many different treatment options available once you have realized that you have a problem with alcohol.  When you go into treatment, abstinence from alcohol will be required, and the treatment options will work with you to maintain that goal.  Which treatment option you need will depend on the severity of your alcohol use, and if there is a need for you to detoxify from the alcohol. Other treatment options include:

  • Self-help/Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Smart Recovery
  • Outpatient counseling, such as individual counseling and intensive outpatient programs
  • Medications management that can be done as part of other treatment options
  • Partial Hospitalization Programs
  • Residential treatment programs

Most insurance policies pay for outpatient counseling only in part; some exclude psychiatric treatment altogether.  You’ll need to check with your insurance plan to determine what degree is required of the professional, and how much your co-pay or deductible will be ($20, 50%, 80%, etc.).

Many health insurance policies require the use of a Preferred Provider Network (PPO), or a referral from your EAP in order for you to receive insurance benefits.  Your EAP counselor can help you sort through your insurance requirements, help find an In-Network provider, assist in determining the right level of care, or may be able to provide short-term EAP counseling at no cost to you.  A call to your EAP may be very helpful to you.


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