Dear Doc | Start the new year with a clean slate
Q Dear Doc, we all like to start the new year with a clean slate, and it seems my girlfriend has … without me.
She told me I have a drinking problem, and that she doesn’t want to be with me anymore until I sort it out. I never thought there was a problem, but over the holidays, she said I got drunk every time I went out and that I behave differently when I am, and she doesn’t like it. She also said I stumble around and fall down a lot, and fall asleep anywhere. I thought she was just overreacting, but some of my friends sided with her. Now I am starting to wonder if I really have a problem. How would I know if I do, and can I fix it myself?
A That, indeed, is a serious problem, and many are unaware until a loved one tells them about it.
So how do you know if you have a drinking problem?
Here are a few simple questions to ask yourself to figure out if alcohol is having a negative effect on your life, and if you are probably drinking too much.
● Have you lost control of your drinking? For example, do you sometimes find that you drink more than you meant to?
● Do you need to drink larger and larger amounts to get the effect you want? Or do you get sick or feel physically uncomfortable if you cut down on your drinking?
● Have you lost your job, got in trouble with the law, or had problems with your friends or family because of alcohol?
If you said yes to any of these questions, you are drinking too much and will require help.
You should take it seriously, as persons who drink too much can develop serious liver and heart disease, get different types of cancer, and can damage their brain. Also, persons who drink too much are more likely to:
● Have car accidents.
● Kill themselves.
● Get seriously hurt.
Alcohol-use disorder is the medical term for alcoholism or alcohol addiction. People who have alcohol addiction have two or more of the following problems.
The more of these they have, the more severe their disorder.
• They end up drinking more alcohol than they planned to, or for a longer time than they planned to.
• They wish they could cut down on alcohol, but they cannot.
• They spend a lot of time trying to get alcohol, getting drunk, or recovering from being drunk.
• They crave or have a strong desire or urge to drink alcohol.
• Because of their alcohol use, they often do not do things that are expected of them, such as go to work or school, remember family events, and clean their home.
• They keep drinking even if it causes or worsens problems in their relationships or interactions with other people.
• They stop or cut back on important social, work, or fun activities that they used to do.
• They keep drinking alcohol even in situations where it is dangerous to do so (such as while driving).
• They keep drinking alcohol even when they know they have a physical or mental problem that was probably caused or made worse by their drinking.
• They need to drink more and more to get the same effects they used to get with less. Or they get less of an effect from using the amount that used to get them drunk. This is called tolerance.
• They have withdrawal symptoms if they stop drinking alcohol after drinking for a long time.
Withdrawal symptoms include:
• Sweating or a racing heart.
• Hand trembling.
• Nausea or vomiting.
• Seizures (these can be serious, even life-threatening).
If any of the above applies to you and your current situation, you should mention it to your doctor. Do not be embarrassed to talk with him or her about it. Alcohol problems are common. But there are treatments that can help.
Persons who have problems with alcohol can:
● See a counsellor (such as a psychologist, social worker, or psychiatrist).
● Take medicines.
● Take part in a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
All of these treatments can help, and they can be combined.
The medications doctors use to treat alcohol problems work in different ways. They can:
● Change the way your brain responds to alcohol so that it is less fun.
● Reduce your craving for alcohol.
● Make you feel sick if you do drink.
● Help you feel less sick when you stop drinking.
Many people get over their drinking problem on their own. But people who have been drinking several days a week for weeks in a row, should not try to cut down without the help of a doctor. People who drink that much can die if they stop or cut down on drinking too quickly.