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Alcohol Use And Abuse

Frequently Asked Questions:Alcohol Use And Abuse

Monday, March 4, 2013 - 15:35

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Here are some frequently asked questions related to alcohol use and abuse.

Q: Do all alcohol abusers and alcoholics drink a lot every day?

A: No. For some people, large amounts of alcohol are not necessary to make them develop an alcohol problem and become dependent on alcohol. Some alcoholics just binge on weekends or several times a month. The important thing is not when or how often people drink, but what happens when they drink and whether they have control over their drinking.

Q: What is a blackout?

A: A blackout is a period of amnesia caused by overuse of alcohol. It is different from passing out because in a blackout the person is fully conscious. The person seems fully aware of what s/he is doing and saying and in full control. However, after the blackout, the person has no memory of what s/he did or said during that time period. A blackout can last for anywhere from seconds to days.

Q: What other disorders often occur along with alcohol problems?

A: People may use alcohol to help deal with the symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders. However, depression and anxiety may also be caused by alcoholism, in which case they often go away after withdrawal from alcohol. Another problem that can go along with an alcohol problem is abuse of and dependence on other drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, sedatives, and nicotine. A person may use alcohol to get rid of unpleasant effects of these substances or to replace them when they are not available.

Q: Do I have to stop drinking if I am taking prescription or over-the-counter medicine?

A: Possibly. More than 100 medicines interact in harmful ways with alcohol. The effects of alcohol are greater with medicines that slow the central nervous system, such as antihistamines, antidepressants, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety medicines, and some painkillers. Medicines for certain disorders, such as heart disease and diabetes, can be dangerous when used with alcohol. If you are taking any prescription or over-the-counter medicines, talk with your doctor or pharmacist about whether it is safe for you to drink any alcohol.

Q: Is it safe to drink while I am pregnant?

A: No. Drinking during pregnancy can increase the chance of miscarriage. Babies of mothers who drink may be born at a low birth weight and with physical, mental, and behavioral problems, including mental retardation. Many of these problems last into adulthood. Even moderate amounts of alcohol can have harmful effects on the fetus. Since the exact amount of alcohol that starts to cause problems is not known, abstaining from alcohol is the one option that experts know is always safe.

Q: Is there a relationship between drinking and sleep?

A: Yes. Alcohol use before going to sleep can interfere with normal sleep patterns. It can also help start or worsen sleep disorders such as apnea. People who use alcohol to help them sleep may fall asleep more easily. However, their sleep in later hours is fitful, leaving them tired the next day. In addition, when a person has less sleep and is tired, it is easier for alcohol to affect the body.

Q: Is there a connection between drinking and smoking?

A: Between 80 and 95 percent of alcoholics smoke cigarettes. That’s three times the average rate. Smokers develop alcoholism at a rate 10 times higher than nonsmokers. The combination of smoking and drinking makes health problems worse than just smoking or drinking alone. This is especially true for some types of cancer.

Q: Is there a connection between drinking and violent behavior?

A: Misuse of alcohol is found in many cases of rape, domestic violence, child abuse, suicide, and murder. In addition, people who have experienced domestic violence or child abuse have a higher chance of becoming alcohol abusers. Alcohol itself does not cause violent behavior. However, it may increase the risk of violent behavior in certain people. This occurs in part because alcohol impairs judgment and reduces impulse control. Cultural and other environmental factors may also play a significant role.

Q: Is there a relationship between drinking and risky sexual behavior?

A: People are more likely to engage in casual sex after drinking than when they are sober. Alcohol impairs judgment about having sex and using birth control and safe sex methods. This increases the chance of rape, unwanted pregnancy, and infection with sexually transmitted diseases including HIV.

Q: What should I know about drinking and driving?

A: Alcohol is involved in more than half of all deaths from car accidents. Each year about 17,000 Americans are killed in alcohol-related traffic accidents, thousands are permanently disabled, and almost one million are injured. Alcohol impairs reflexes, coordination, vision, perception, and judgment. Impairment starts with the first drink. Most people are very impaired before they have become legally drunk. Alcohol can cause a person to have a car accident even if s/he generally does not abuse it. People who abuse alcohol are at higher risk. The term "drunk driver" also refers to people who are drunk while riding bicycles or motorcycles, or operating boats or snowmobiles.

Q: When is inpatient treatment recommended?

A: Inpatient treatment is recommended for people:

  • with severe withdrawal symptoms;
  • with a severe case of another medical or psychiatric disorder;
  • who may hurt themselves or others;
  • do not respond to other treatments; or
  • have a very disruptive home environment that interferes with treatment.

An inpatient setting provides a safe, medically supervised, alcohol-free environment where a person can stop drinking and begin a treatment program.

Q: How important is it for the person to be committed to treatment and recovery?

A: Motivation and commitment are very important in helping a person seek treatment, follow through with it, and maintain abstinence or other necessary changes in his or her drinking patterns over the long term.

Q: Can treatment be useful if it is not voluntary?

A: Yes. Sanctions or rewards in the family, work setting, or criminal justice system can increase motivation to change, entry into treatment, and success of results.

Q: Isn't it mainly working class and low-income families that experience alcohol problems?

A: No. Alcohol problems occur in families of all economic and educational backgrounds as well as racial and cultural backgrounds. However, certain groups do have a somewhat higher risk for alcohol problems.

Q: Could a family member or friend I see every day have an alcohol problem if I do not see him or her drinking much?

A: Yes. A person does not have to drink every day to have an alcohol problem. Some alcoholics just binge on weekends or several times a month. It is common for people with alcohol problems to hide their drinking and its consequences.

Q: What are some examples of enabling behavior?

A:

  • Lying to other people about the person’s drinking.
  • Giving excuses for problems caused by the person’s drinking.
  • Accepting the person’s excuses in order to avoid conflict.
  • Taking care of the person’s responsibilities, such as financial responsibilities.
  • Getting the person out of financial or legal problems.

Q: How important is it for the drinker to be committed to treatment and recovery?

A: Motivation and commitment are essential in helping someone seek treatment, follow through with it, and maintain abstinence or other necessary changes in his or her drinking patterns over the long term.

Q: Can treatment be useful if it is not voluntary?

A: Yes. Sanctions or rewards in the family, work setting, or criminal justice system can increase motivation to change, entry into treatment, and success of results.

Q: What are some ways a specialist in alcohol problems or another mental health professional can be helpful?

A:

  • Help you figure out whether a family member or friend may have an alcohol problem.
  • Help you figure out how to talk with the drinker and give advice and support in planning an intervention.
  • Attend an intervention if needed, for example if the drinker has a history of mental illness or violence.
  • Help you cope with the difficulties and stress of having a family member or friend with an alcohol problem.

Q: What if an intervention fails?

A: An intervention cannot fail. Even if the alcoholic person does not seek treatment, everyone involved in the intervention has some new awareness. After an intervention, it is harder for anyone to retreat into denial. A second or third intervention may then be more likely to succeed in getting the alcoholic person to accept treatment because his or her defenses were probably weakened by the first intervention.

 

Alcohol Use And Abuse