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Warning Signs Of A Drinking Problem

As we head into the holiday season filled with family get-togethers, company parties, and possibly a sense of loneliness, it’s a good time to evaluate your drinking habits. Many people enjoy a glass of wine after work now and then, or a few beers on the weekend. However, if this has ramped up in the last year, getting it under control for upcoming festivities and maybe even as a New Years resolution should be a priority. Remember that alcohol has different effects on different people and your own reaction can be altered if you are on new medication, if you’ve had a weight gain or loss, or if you’re eating a meal along with your beverage. Honestly, you probably don’t want to end up the loud one on the dance floor in front of your boss because you’ve been drinking on an empty stomach, or ruin your evening feeling dizzy and sick because you forgot that alcohol and antibiotics don’t mix well.

It’s hard to face the idea that you or a loved one has a drinking problem. Confronting it can cause confusion, high emotions, denials and anger. But if not addressed, the results can be deadly as the CDC reports that every day close to 30 people in the U.S. die in car accidents caused by a drunk driver behind the wheel. To better understand if you have an issue, here are some key points to consider:

1. You’ve become neglectful. You are generally a very organized, caring and health oriented person. However, you have started to miss daily workouts due to hangovers, or are late to get home after work because you have to stop to pick up a case of beer, or have stopped tucking your kids in because you have passed out on the couch first.

2. You are tired all the time. Over 50% of alcoholics suffer from insomnia. Drinking causes you to skip the restorative slow-wave deep sleep and get little REM sleep. You might feel drowsy and fall right to sleep after a few too many, but the drop in blood sugar a few hours later often causes you to jolt awake and find it difficult to fall back to sleep.

3. You can’t wait for your next drink. If you spend time during the day thinking that you can get through school or work, or taking care of the kids or stressful situations because you can have a drink when you get home, it’s a sign of a problem. Thinking about your next alcoholic drink during the day isn’t a good sign.

4. Your friends and family are concerned. People in your daily life are hinting or straight out telling you that your behavior is worrisome. They wouldn’t make this up and they aren’t out to get you. It’s time to seriously reflect on how you have been acting.

Considering that according to the NCADD, one in 12 adults suffer from alcohol addiction, you are not alone. It might be overwhelming to think about cutting back or abstaining as we head into the party season, but it can be done. Bring your own alcohol free drinks with you, hang out with a sober crowd, and cut out earlier than usual, before the heavy drinking begins. You will feel healthier and more in control of your life as you start out the New Year.

The Risks of Drinking and Driving

Did you know that to reach the legal limit for drunk driving in all 50 states of .08 blood alcohol concentration, it only takes 2 drinks for a 120-pound female and about 4 drinks for a 180 pound male?  That is 4 beers, or 3 beers and 1 shot, or 2 beers and 2 5-ounce glasses of wine.  It’s a myth that beer or wine have “less” alcohol content than a standard cocktail, it all adds up to the same amount of alcohol no matter how you pair it.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2013 close to 11,000 people were killed in car crashes and 290,000 were injured.   So when you see increased law enforcement presence around nightclubs, bars or on the freeways during holiday weekends, this is why. 

State Justice Department statistics show that in 2013 the following 6 states had the highest numbers of DUI arrests:

1.  California = 214,828

2.  Texas = 90,066

3.  Florida = 61,852

4.  North Carolina = 49,599

5.  Wisconsin = 40,549

6.  Arizona = 39,746

It’s important to remember that although you may feel more energized and upbeat, alcohol actually slows down the activity of your central nervous system and brain making you unsafe to be behind the wheel.  Even if you drink a lot of coffee and think you are maintaining total concentration, you have reduced reaction time, impaired eye muscle function and visual perception, slowed processing of sensory information and increased difficulty in doing multiple tasks (like watching for pedestrians, observing traffic flow and staying in your lane).  The effects of the alcohol also contribute to poor judgment calls, increased risk taking and an overconfidence that often translates to unnecessary speed and lane changes.

Many of us think that we can go out for a night of partying and then walk over in the cold, fresh air of the night to the local Starbucks for a latte to sober up before driving home safely.   In actuality, the truth is that your blood alcohol level can continue to rise for the 3 hours after your last cocktail. 

So why do people still continue to drink and drive?  Alcohol affects different people differently.  Some feel like they aren’t as drunk as they really are, or they irrationally feel like they can overcompensate for lack of coordination if they focus, or they are just too embarrassed to ask anyone to give them a ride.  We’ve all had this feeling at one time or another.  However, the repercussions of drunk driving far override one night of feeling ashamed or facing inconvenience.  Aside from hurting yourself or others in an accident, if you are caught for a DUI, you will have a number of hurdles to face.  There will be jail time, fines, attorney fees, court appearances, and possible community service and alcohol education classes.  It can hurt your career if you have a job in the transportation industry, sales or any kind of law enforcement.  Don’t tell yourself just one more time; it’s just not worth it. 

Are You Alcohol Dependent?

Are you someone who has enjoyed drinking alcohol as a way to relax and have fun with friends over the years, but have recently found that it is becoming more and more of a problem in your life? If so, you are not alone. Many people use alcohol to self-medicate to relieve stress including celebrities like Jon Hamm, Matthew Perry, Billy Joel, Lindsay Lohan, Demi Lovato and Robin Thicke. For many of our students, they admit to ignoring the signs of alcohol dependence until a DUI offense, divorce or job loss has occurred and shaken up their world. Now they have experienced a night in jail, paid multiple fines, given up their license leaving them dependent on others, had to perform hours of community service and are taking our alcohol and drug education classes to fulfill state requirements. And, to top it off, once they are allowed to legally drive again, their insurance rates will go up. Hitting rock bottom has motivated a lifestyle change.

Before things hit this point, there are some things to ask yourself about the last year to assess how complicated the situation has become.

1. Do you have times when you drink much more than you intended?

2. Found yourself too sick from a hangover to go to work or meet other responsibilities?

3. Wanted to cut back or stop, but couldn’t?

4. Experienced cravings for alcohol?

5. Experienced a blackout?

6. Skipped a family activity or something you enjoy doing to drink instead?

7. Have to drink much more than you used to for the same effects?

8. Drink alone?

9. Need a drink to enjoy yourself in social situations?

If you have answered “yes” to the majority of these questions, you may have an alcohol dependency problem and be ready to quit drinking. The first thing to consider is surrounding yourself with support to help you accomplish this goal. This might include a recovery center or 1-1 counseling or group therapy, AA meetings, alcohol awareness classes and selecting the right friends and family to help you get through this transition.

On your own, it’s important to make a plan. Rid your house of alcohol, stay away from your drinking buddies and figure out what you will do if the craving seems insurmountable. Make a list of all the reasons that you want to stay sober and carry that list with you to refer to during weak moments. Many people say they drink because they are lonely or bored. For example, they are recently divorced and the kids are away for the weekend with the other parent, or recently widowed, or downright depressed due to health or tragic life issues that have arisen. It’s common to turn to alcohol to help pass the time, so instead make changes to your daily schedule and replace the time you spent drinking with a hobby you enjoy or exercise. You might feel uncomfortable at first due to withdrawal symptoms but think back to how horrible you felt after a night of too much drinking. You might feel out of shape at first due to your previous lifestyle, but just think that every day you exercise you will get stronger and stronger. Visualize a healthier and more well balanced future and keep reminding yourself that with determination, you have the power to stay sober.

April's Alcohol Awareness Month Highlights Importance of Early Education

Since 1987, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NADD) has designated April as Alcohol Awareness Month. The purpose is to increase the public’s understanding about how alcoholism affects individuals, families, workplaces and communities across the country. This year’s theme is devoted to highlighting a topic that we focus on a lot in our articles, the importance of early education and the consequences of underage drinking. The reason why this is such a hot topic is because according to the CDC, alcohol is directly responsible for more than 4,300 deaths among those under the age of 21 per year. Research show that the younger a person starts to drink, the higher the chances of becoming addicted to alcohol as an adult. This translates to making alcohol the 3rd highest cause of death in the U.S. with about 80,000 deaths per year.

According to NCADD, about 7,000 adolescents per year who are under the age of 16 take their first drink. Some do it with their parents consent while others are exposed by their peers. This Alcohol Awareness Month 2015 is dedicated to increasing public and parent awareness to the negative aspects of condoning this behavior. Once you become parents of a teenager you might decide that it’s better to have your child and his or her friends drink with you when you can monitor the situation than when they are driving out and about. However, this only creates more problems because it gives the kids the message that it’s okay to drink and it puts the other parents in the uncomfortable position of looking unfair and not understanding.

So, if you need some ammunition as to why you should stand your ground with your teens and say no to underage drinking, here you go:

1. Alcohol related accidents. According to NCAAD, 100,000 persons die each year from alcohol-related causes like drinking and driving crashes, falls, fires, alcohol poisoning, and alcohol-related homicides and suicides. From 2006 – 2010 New Mexico had the highest number of alcohol related deaths per capita of the 50 states, North Carolina was in the middle and New Jersey was the lowest.

2. Increases problems in school. Kids who drink generally have lower test scores, trouble concentrating, a lack of participation in classroom and school related activities and a higher rate of absence due to hangovers and exhaustion.

3. Higher risk for depression resulting in suicide and aggressive behavior resulting in homicide.

4. Changes in the way the brain functions. The longer the abuse, the more the individual will crave alcohol to feel “normal”.

5. Overall lack of motivation. The child that once desired to go to college might start talking about dropping out of high school. The youth might lose interest in sports, dance, or other extra-curricular activities that they once excelled at. Ambition to be successful takes a back seat.

April’s Alcohol Awareness month really speaks to parents to have the courage to set rules and boundaries for your child’s safety and future. Trying to be the “cool” parents who allow their teens to drink alcohol establishes a permissive environment that you will most likely regret in the end.

Online Alcohol Education Programs Help Support Sober Living

You’ve had a long day at work and just want to unwind and relax, so you stop and grab a 6 pack for when you get home. You are greeted by a family that loves you and proceed to have a few. After 1 or 2, you are feeling more calm and upbeat but as the evening wears on and you keep drinking, you find yourself getting more emotional, talking more loudly and saying things that you don’t really mean. When you wake up the next morning, you don’t exactly remember what you said or did, but your family is walking on eggshells and obviously don’t want to be around you. You’ve had another evening of drinking too much, which progressed into an alcohol-fueled fight with your wife and kids.

Although it might appear that everyone around you is able to moderate their drinking so it doesn’t cause problems for them, for some people this just isn’t the case. Too much alcohol consumption reduces the ability to think straight which in turn makes some people irrational so that they misread other people’s comments or intentions and become more intense and aggressive. One small comment that might normally be ignored, like “You had to miss my last piano recital, so I wish you could make the next one!” might be misconstrued by someone who is intoxicated so they think the child is complaining about their lack of interest and an argument ensues. This lack of decision making skills also puts intoxicated drivers behind the wheel of a car and everyone around them in physical danger.  The end result of the unreliable and inconsistent behavior is stress on the family and broken relationships.

Alcoholism not only affects the physical and emotional state of the alcoholic, but everyone in the family unit. Communication problems arise as the spouse and kids lose trust in the person. Family members might retreat to avoid dealing with the instability and embarrassment caused by the behavior, career opportunities are often lost because of conflicts, absences and lack of control at work, and due to the lack of productivity, financial problems can add more burden.

Friends and family can help loved ones who drink too much by talking to them when they are sober. Using specific examples of what they said and did, and even pictures, can help reinforce your argument. It’s important to be clear, supportive and non-judgmental so they understand you are coming from a good place. For example, “Have you noticed that your sleep issues have gotten worse as you’ve been drinking more?” If your relationship to date is one that includes drinking, the point has most likely been to unwind and have fun together. This same goal can be accomplished and replaced with healthier activities like going for a walk, watching a favorite TV series or cooking a meal together instead.

If your friend, spouse or partner is ready to acknowledge the alcohol problem and help get your relationship back on track, then AA meetings, private therapy and group or online and private alcohol education classes are all great ways to support his or her sobriety. Once the drinking stops, many families find that they can regroup and heal for a better future.