Alcohol Use Disorder: Raising Awareness
Chances are if you’re reading this article, you know someone who struggles with alcohol abuse – a friend, a family member, a co-worker or you yourself. My name is Susan and I’m a grateful recovering alcoholic. I have worked at Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services, treating hundreds of patients who struggle with addiction. It is my passion and my calling. In this article, I will address the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse and dependence, decreasing the stigma, and the treatment that is available to help.
Problematic Alcohol Use: Signs of Alcoholism
These are some of the signs and symptoms of problematic drinking; an increase in the amount of an individual’s alcohol consumption, lying about the amount or frequency of use, drinking in the morning, lack of interest in family or other social interactions, decreased productivity at home or work, using cash rather than a bank card to avoid tracking spending, defensiveness when questioned about drinking, and a lack of transparency.
The Definition of Binge Drinking
According to the Centers for Disease Control, binge drinking is defined as drinking five drinks on one occasion for men and drinking four drinks on one occasion for women. Heavy drinking is defined as drinking 15 or more drinks per week for men and eight drinks per week for women. This type of drinking increases a person’s risk for many chronic health problems such as liver disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, digestive problems, depression, anxiety, and memory problems. These risks of excessive alcohol consumption also include unintended injuries. Over 260 people die every day in the United States from excessive alcohol use.
The Cost of Alcohol Use Disorder
According to Forbes magazine, in the United States, alcoholic beverage companies spend one to two billion dollars annually to persuade consumers to buy their products. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says each American household spends an average of $565 per year on alcoholic beverages. Locally in the Pine belt, area liquor stores have reported a marked increase in sales during the COVID-19 pandemic.
There Spectrum of Addiction: There’s No Such Thing As a Stereotypical Addict
In our societal culture, some people may have the perception that an alcoholic is an individual who has lost their job, their family, material possessions, has possibly been arrested, is homeless and is incapable of being helped. My perception of an alcoholic was a disheveled person sleeping on a park bench with a bottle in a brown paper bag. I bought into the stigma associated with alcoholism and that people did this to themselves. I was happily married, raising three beautiful daughters, was gainfully employed and didn’t get drunk every night. I later learned that my perception about alcoholics was far from reality, and this perception contributes to why people are resistant to seeking help.
Functional alcoholics appear to be normal even while under the influence. They have developed a higher tolerance for alcohol and seem to have control over the amount they drink. Unfortunately, people who are addicted to alcohol are unlikely to notice the signs that they are losing control. To complicate things even further, one person may drink less than another person but have more consequences than the person who drinks more.
Substance use disorders exist on a spectrum from mild to moderate to severe. I like metaphors, and one I use frequently to describe someone with a mild addiction is like a woman in early pregnancy. There are few external cues that a woman is pregnant in her first trimester. However, there are major changes occurring inside her body. Likewise, when someone is in the early stages of addiction, there may be few indications that something is wrong, although structural changes are taking place in the brain.
In the second trimester of pregnancy, the baby is growing and the woman begins to show a little more. One way a woman can hide the growth of her belly is by wearing loose-fitting clothing. When someone has a moderate addiction to alcohol, an alcoholic can do things to hide this condition as well. For example, if a person’s alcohol intake increases to the point where others notice this, an alcoholic will drink in secret so as not to draw attention to it. It is also common for an alcoholic to drink prior to going out to dinner or a social function in order to get their fix so it isn’t as obvious that the quantity he or she is drinking is above average at the event. Because the need for alcohol continues to grow, the alcoholic will make excuses to run errands in order to procure more alcohol and they will drink it privately. These types of behaviors begin the creation of a web of lies in order for the alcoholic to protect their illness.
Most family members don’t want to believe their loved one is addicted to alcohol and it can be simpler to believe the story they are being told. Consequently, family members can enable the alcoholic to continue their behavior too.
By the time an alcoholic reaches the severe level of Alcohol Use Disorder, the signs and consequences are very clear: a lost job, a DUI, relationship problems, arrests, increased anger, elevated liver enzymes, high blood pressure, falling, and financial problems, just to name a few. Their life has become unmanageable and it is impossible to hide.
How to Help an Alcoholic
So how do you approach someone who you think has a problem with alcohol? I would love to tell you it’s simple and unfortunately addiction is a disease that tries to convince the one suffering they don’t have a problem. There are resources for families and friends of alcoholics. One of those is Al-Anon which is the companion program to Alcoholics Anonymous. Al-Anon teaches family members how to stop enabling the alcoholic and how to take care of themselves. An alcoholic may also be more willing to receive help by talking to another alcoholic, who is in recovery. This is someone who truly understands the individual’s malady and has walked in their shoes. This person has credibility, and Pine Grove can provide recovery resources through our Alumni Program. Another resource is an interventionist. This is a trained professional who works with the family to help their loved one to consider addiction treatment. Pine Grove may make a recommendation to families regarding a qualified interventionist.
Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder
There are different levels of treatment available for treating Alcohol Use Disorder. At Pine Grove, we offer medical detox, an inpatient program where the patient is closely monitored by medical professionals and treated with medication to minimize the effects of withdrawal symptoms. Pine Grove also provides residential and partial hospitalization treatment, where the patient participates in group and individual therapy, receives psycho-educational material regarding addiction and recovery, and participates in scheduled activities to change key elements of their lifestyle. Additionally, Pine Grove provides an intensive outpatient program, which includes nine hours of group therapy weekly, plus one hour of individual therapy each week for ten weeks. This program offers a day and evening option to accommodate our patients’ professional schedules. We also have outpatient treatment at Pine Grove, where patients meet with a licensed practitioner for a recommended period of time.
Program recommendations are made after a patient receives an assessment with our professional admissions team. The assessment is free and helps prospective patients understand the Pine Grove program that would best treat their alcohol use, per the recommendations of Pine Grove’s physicians and other licensed treatment professionals.
If you would like to learn more about the treatment provided at Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services, please call 1-888-574-HOPE (4673), and visit www.pinegrovetreatment.com.
About Susan K. Davidson, LMFT, ACT
Clinical Therapist, Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services
This guest post was written by Susan Davidson, a Clinical Therapist for Pine Grove’s Intensive Outpatient Program. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree from The University of Southern Mississippi, where she majored in Psychology and graduated with the Highest Honors. Davidson also earned her Master’s degree from The University of Southern Mississippi in Marriage and Family Therapy. She is certified in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and is also trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).
About Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services
Located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services is one of the nation’s most comprehensive treatment campuses. Pine Grove’s world renowned programs treat gender specific substance abuse including specialized tracks for co-occurring eating disorders and trauma. Additionally, Pine Grove offers an Intensive Outpatient substance abuse healing program for adults and a separate treatment program specifically for those who are age 55 plus. Other Pine Grove specialty programs include a dedicated professional’s treatment curriculum and a comprehensive evaluation center. Pine Grove also features a program for patients with sexual addiction. Inpatient Services including an Adult Psychiatric Unit, along with a Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Unit, and Outpatient Services are other components. Pine Grove is a division of Forrest Health, a partnership of healthcare organizations across South Mississippi, and the behavioral healthcare extension of Forrest General Hospital, a 547 bed, level II Regional Trauma Center. Established in 1984, Pine Grove has provided nationally and internationally recognized health care for 37 years.