Summer Drinking: Fun or a Problem?

SummerDrinking.jpgSummer often feels like that three month long vacation with lots of parties and social gatherings. Inevitably there is alcohol present and most people drink. Drinking can be relaxing, a little uninhibiting and make the social moments seem like more fun. However sometimes what started as one drink can become two, four or more. How do you know if you have a problem?

Alcohol is a depressant, in the same class of drugs as the benzodiazepines like Valium. It is both psychologically and physiologically addictive. It is not how much alcohol you drink, so much as the symptoms you develop when you don't drink anymore. If you have a hand tremor (the shakes), feel sweaty, agitated, anxious, nauseous and can't sleep without having another drink then you are experiencing alcohol withdrawal. This is because your body has gotten used to the alcohol in your system and needs it if you take it away. This is why a drink later (an "eye-opener" or the "hair of the dog that bit you") makes you feel better physically.

Alcohol dependence is when you experience three of the following symptoms:

  1. You need more and more alcohol to get the same desired effect,
  2. You experience withdrawal,
  3. You keep trying unsuccessfully to cut down,
  4. Your drinking effects your personal or job life, and you keep drinking despite it.

Because people are different sizes and have different metabolisms, the number of drinks they have does not define a problem:  It is the effect of the alcohol and the need for continued use. Many people believe they don't have a problem because they never try to cut down, but when finally in a situation where they can't drink they realize it is not possible to stop.

It is both socially acceptable and common to drink alcohol. About halfof Americans drink. About a third of adults have had onealcohol-related problem like driving drunk or missing work due to ahang over. 10% of women and 20% of men qualify for alcohol abuse(alcohol use causing problems with either their job, personal life, thelaw or taking hazardous risks). 5% of women and 10% of men have alcoholdependence. Alcohol abuse lowers one's life expectancy about 10 years.The effects range from heart disease, liver disease and cancer tosuicide, homicide and driving fatalities. People with alcohol problemsoften suffer from depression and anxiety disorders. They may even usethe alcohol to try to cope with the depressed or anxious feelings theysuffer from. Unfortunately, it doesn't work and now they have analcohol problem, too.

Like most things in life, alcohol is fine, even potentially good, inmoderation. Studies show that a glass of wine or two a day can even bebeneficial in lowering heart and vascular disease. So enjoying acocktail with your friends is not a problem. But if you find a cocktailhas creeped up to four, or on the nights you aren't drinking you feelso bad that you drink or even that you are really tying one on everyweekend (called binging) you may have an alcohol problem and may needhelp

What should you do?

  • Give yourself the CAGE questionnaire (Have you tried to Cut down unsuccessfully?, Are you Annoyed by others criticizing your drinking?, Do you feel Guilty about drinking?, Do you need an Eye-opener?) If you answer yes to any of these you may have a problem.
  • Try cutting down on your own.
  • Educate yourself about the health risks. It is very motivating.
  • Go to a group meeting like Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Get individual help. Therapy and outpatient detoxification with medication can be done.
  • Some people with a significant problem may require an inpatient detoxification and rehabilitation.
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