It’s your second hangover in three days and you haven’t even gotten through the workweek. Monday morning you laughed it off as the results of a Sunday night get-together that had gone on too long. Now you have no real excuse.
Your head throbs. Your hands shake. Your stomach is in loose knots. You just want to go home and crawl in bed, or chug a few beers. Use the old “hair of the dog” cure. Except you tried that last week and you didn’t stop when the hangover melted away. You kept going until you were drunk again, and the next day it was the same thing all over again: another blinding hangover.
Has drinking stopped being fun? Is it really possible that you’re not in control any longer?
Have you become an alcoholic?
The Difference Between Abuse and Addiction
Did you know that alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction aren’t the same thing? You can abuse alcohol without being addicted to it. However, the more you abuse it, the greater your chances are that you’re going to become addicted.
According to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation (hazeldonbettyford.org), alcohol abuse is characterized by drinking too much and too often. Your performance at school and work suffer from your drinking habits. You drink when you know it’s inappropriate, such as before you have to drive or before an important meeting. You drink even when you know you must be at work early in the morning. In other words, you’ll drink no matter the consequences. This is clear alcohol abuse.
Abuse turns to addiction when you can no longer stop yourself from drinking. You begin to show physical symptoms of dependence, such as nausea, shaking and heart palpitations when you don’t drink. When you do drink, you drink more than you intended and for longer than you meant to. Your tolerance increases, meaning you have to drink more to get the same buzz. If you try to set rules, you break them helplessly. You drink alone, in the mornings and spend a lot of time drunk. You give up other things in your life so you can drink. You worry if you can’t get the alcohol you need for the weekend.
When you become addicted to alcohol, you no longer have a choice in the matter. You feel like you must drink, even when it makes you and your immediate family dreadfully unhappy.
What’s Considered Normal?
According to the American Psychological Association (apa.org), moderate drinking is two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. One drink equates to 1.5 ounces of liquor, 5 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer. Most people who drink in moderation have no ill effects. Drinking more than one or two drinks a day (depending on whether you’re male or female) begins to tip the scale from not worrisome to problematic and possibly troublesome. Only you and your immediate family know for sure if the amount you’re drinking is becoming an issue.
Binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks in one sitting at least once a month. If you like to party on the weekends and usually pound shot after shot, you’re binge drinking. Even if you only do it on the weekends, this is still considered alcohol abuse. It’s an unsafe amount for your body to handle, it will severely impair your judgment and can result in risk-taking behaviors, especially if you choose to drive after drinking.
According to WebMD (webmd.com), these are some of the warning signs that your drinking has crossed the line:
• You feel guilty about how much you drink.
• You “black out,” meaning you have periods of lost memory while you’re drinking.
• You try to compromise with your drinking in a quest for a solution. You may switch to wine, thinking it’s healthier. You may switch to beer because you think liquor gets you drunk too fast. You may try to stick to clear liquor because it supposedly doesn’t give you hangovers. However, no matter the solution, you find yourself losing control and getting drunk.
• Your relationships are suffering because of your drinking. Close loved ones have raised questions and concerns but you drink anyway.
• You try to hide the true extent of your drinking. You stash bottles in hiding spots. You pour water into liquor bottles to conceal how much you’ve had. You buy from different liquor stores so you won’t be recognized as a “regular.”
• You frequently feel ashamed of what you did or said the night before when you were drinking.
• You sneak additional drinks when no one is looking.
• You feel overly anxious or excited to have that first drink.
• Drinking drastically changes your personality. Friends and family members complain about the change in you.
Help is Available, so Take Advantage of It!
If you’re scared that alcohol is taking over your life, it’s time to get help. No one solution works for everyone, so be patient. If you’re physically dependent on alcohol, you will likely need medical help to prevent serious withdrawal symptoms. It’s a good idea to follow this up with counseling from a professional at Clay Behavioral.
According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (ncadd.org), a good first step in seeking help for alcohol abuse or dependence is to approach your family doctor. He or she can talk with you about the resources in the community, including Clay Behavioral Health Center, that are available to help you.
There are also medications you can take to help you stop drinking alcohol. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (pubs.nih.niaaa.gov), there are three FDA-approved medicines dedicated to the treatment of alcoholism: Naltrexone, Acamprosate and Disulfiram. There are other medications that, while not necessarily created to treat alcoholism, can work for certain individuals. Topomax and Chantix, for example, were created to treat seizures and cigarette smoking, respectively, but have both been found effective in treating alcohol dependence in for certain people. Working with your doctor will help you both to find the right solution for you.
Don’t waste time. When you recognize a problem, get help right away. If you stumble during treatment, don’t be surprised- many, many people do. It’s all part of the road to recovery and freedom. Clay Behavioral’s treatment professionals have a wide range of expertise and services to help you on your journey to recovery.