When Do You Cross the Line?
By- Dr. David Prescott
Over half of the adults in America report using alcohol during the past year. Of those, over 14 million people abuse alcohol at any given point in time. One of the most common questions faced by people whose alcohol and drug use is becoming a concern, is when has a person crossed the line from recreational use to problematic drinking?
The line between problematic and non-problematic alcohol use is different for each individual, but some common criteria for problem drinking include:
· Repeated Binge Drinking Episodes
· Driving While Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs
· Drinking negatively impacts work, health, or important relationships.
Binge Drinking: Binge drinking is defined as heavy drinking within a limited period of time; 5 or more drinks for males, 4 or more drinks for females. Obviously, drinking this much puts a person over the legal limit of blood alcohol content for intoxication. Some people who binge drink quickly become dependent on alcohol. In fact, genetics research suggests that certain people are predisposed to develop dependence very quickly. Alcohol dependence involves developing tolerance, where a person needs more and more alcohol to produce the same effect. Tolerance is a sign that drinking is likely a problem.
How young do people start Binge Drinking? One of the most startling statistics about binge drinking concerns the early ages at which binge drinking first occurs. One in ten sixth graders report at least one episode of binge drinking. One in three high school seniors have consumed 4 or more drinks at one time in the past month. These statistics highlight that problem drinking begins well before the legal age to purchase alcohol. Early alcohol use is associated with a far greater risk of developing alcohol addiction later in life.
Driving After Drinking: In spite of the public education efforts about the dangers of driving after using alcohol, the statistics on this issue are startling. Almost 1 in 7 adults (13.2%) acknowledge having driven after using alcohol. Maine rates are slightly below the national average, but still above 10%. Driving after using alcohol, particularly if this occurs repeatedly, is obviously a sign of problem drinking.
Drinking's Impact on Work, Health, or Relationships: A third way to address the question of whether alcohol use has crossed the line to become a significant problem, is to think about whether alcohol use has had any impact on work (or school), physical health, or important relationships. Without determining whether or not the impact is large or small, it is helpful to objectively determine whether a person's alcohol use has ever impacted work (such as missing work due to effects of alcohol use), health (such as injury or contribution to chronic health problems) or relationships.
Getting Help for Alcohol Problems: People for whom alcohol has become a significant problem often downplay the role of alcohol in their life. Denial is often viewed as a defining characteristic of alcohol addiction. So, if you try to point out to someone that they have an alcohol problem it is likely that they will disagree with you. Nevertheless, overcoming an alcohol addiction is usually very difficult to manage without help. Some simple tips for getting help include:
· Talk with a mental health professional. A psychologist, social worker, or licensed professional counselor can help look at whether or not alcohol use is a problem in your life, and can help you understand better the factors that contribute to alcohol abuse.
· Talk with a doctor or primary care physician. For some people, talking to your family doctor is more comfortable than seeking help from a counselor. Most primary care doctors have basic training in evaluating alcohol related problems, and can help you decide if you need further help. Recent research suggests that brief screening and intervention from primary care providers (SBIRT) is highly effective in addressing alcohol abuse.
· Alcohol Addiction may be masking other problems. People who abuse alcohol may be trying to cope with an underlying psychiatric problem like depression or an anxiety disorder. Or, getting drunk may be a short term way to cope with family problems or a troubled relationship. Usually however, using alcohol makes it more difficult to sort out the original problem.
Want More Information?
Acadia Hospital: www.acadiahospital.org
American Psychological Association Help Center: www.apahelpcenter.org
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: http://www.samhsa.gov/recovery/
Maine Office of Substance Abuse: http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/osa/
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