Alcoholism can be insidious in how it affects not only the life of the alcoholic but the lives of their friends and family. Sometimes an alcoholic can function for years without anyone realizing just how pervasive their illness has become, not only because they may be actively hiding their addiction, but also because even now, much of the American populace remains somewhat unknowledgeable of the signs, symptoms, and dangers of alcoholism.
Part of the problem is that drinking and being drunk are often considered socially acceptable and not problematic. If a person were to show up to a party high on drugs, it would likely be met with derision, anger, or concern. However, if that same person gets hopelessly drunk at the same party, those actions would almost certainly be viewed differently.
There is also the issue of privacy. A friend or family member witnessing someone they love doing illicit drugs may feel inclined to step in and say something immediately. However, when it comes to drinking alcohol, its legality clouds the situation. Combine that with an alcoholic’s tendency to hide or lie about how much they drink and it’s easy to see why people go on for years as alcoholics without anyone realizing it.
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of addiction to alcohol are:
- Neglecting responsibilities in order to drink
- Use of alcohol in inappropriate or dangerous situations
- Mixing alcohol with prescription medication
- Being arrested for DUIs or public drunkenness
- Using alcohol as a relaxation or stress aid
- Avoiding family or friends in order to drink
- Unwillingness to stop drinking, even for a short period of time
- Uncharacteristic changes in behavior
- Excessive tiredness
- Sudden onset of depression
- Intestinal trouble
- Heart failure
- Liver trouble
Alcoholism Touches Millions of Lives
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), there were nearly 18 million people in the United States with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), including an estimated 855,000 adolescents ages 12 -17. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in 10 deaths among working-age adults (ages 20-64) are due to excessive alcohol use, calling it the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.
The agency estimated that excessive alcohol use shortened the lives of those who died by approximately 30 years; with alcohol abusers suffering from diseases such as breast cancer, liver disease and heart disease.
As horrifying as those numbers may appear, they only scratch the surface of the true toll of alcoholism. Alcohol abuse and addiction impacts spouses, friends, children and other family members of alcoholics in multiple ways. It is estimated that each alcoholic affects an average of four people, meaning there are 92 million Americans currently being affected by alcoholism in some way.
Physical and Mental Health Defects
Unfortunately, due to pregnant women consuming alcohol while carrying, over 5,000 babies per year are born with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). This is a disease that causes children to be born with irreversible physical and mental defects. Children suffering from FAS may grow up with facial deformities and mental retardation that prevents them from leading a normal life. It can also cause hyperactivity, learning difficulties and problems with memory and judgment.
Severe Social Impact
While birth defects caused by alcohol abuse are troubling, the social impact of a child having an alcoholic parent or a spouse having an alcoholic husband or wife can be just as devastating. Each person in the family will be affected differently, based on
It is estimated that each alcoholic affects an average of four people, meaning there are 92 million Americans currently being affected by alcoholism in some way.several factors. Almost all of the effects of alcoholism on a family will be negative:
- Financial Strain: It is not cheap to fund the habits of an alcoholic. This is especially true for families without a large income. Combine that with the high risk of an alcoholic losing his or her job and the financial impact on a family can be difficult to ignore.
- Low-Self Esteem, Depression and Guilt: Children of alcoholics have been reported to suffer from feelings of guilt, fear of abandonment, chronic depression and high levels of anxiety. Many children blame themselves for their parent’s drinking. They are less likely to establish healthy relationships or to attend college. Additionally, they are more likely to become alcoholics themselves.
- Codependency: Spouses of alcoholics often bear the brunt of the disorder. Marriages involving an alcoholic may suffer from a lack of communication or intimacy. Additionally, there is a chance for the spouse to become codependent, a mental disorder in which one spouse enables the addicted spouse and puts their needs ahead of their own.
Understanding the Disease of Alcoholism
Perhaps the most difficult thing for a non-alcoholic to understand is why an addict can’t simply stop abusing alcohol. In many cases, the damage done to the life of the alcoholic and his or her family is so obvious and plain to see that it can be tough to comprehend why they would continue to drink. Additionally, for those who don’t understand the nature of addiction, this can seem to be as simple as making a choice.
The problem is that alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease, not a conscious choice. There are numerous potential contributing factors, including mental health, family history, trauma and others that make a person more predisposed to alcohol abuse and addiction than others. If it were as simple as just deciding to stop, alcoholism wouldn’t be plaguing millions of U.S. adults and countless others around the world. While the first step in defeating alcoholism does begin with a decision, it also requires psychological counseling, addiction education, a reformation of habits, a change of environment and much more.
Let BHOPB Guide Your Way Back from Addiction
Do you have a loved one who is preoccupied with abusing alcohol? Does your loved one go to great lengths to hide their drinking? Do discussions about their alcohol abuse deteriorate into arguments? Do you see your loved one drunk more often than they are sober? Has alcohol abuse led to a decline in quality of life, loss of financial stability, lack of intimacy or an inability for him or her to function regularly?
If you answered yes to one or multiple questions, your loved one may have a substance abuse disorder that requires immediate treatment. Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches can help coordinate an intervention to help them willingly accept treatment and begin changing their life. Speak to one of our representatives today to learn more.