Alcohol  Abuse (Addiction)

Last month we talked about social alcohol use and alcohol dependence.  Today we are going to look at alcohol addiction, which is the maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.  And again please note I am quoting directly or restating in my own voice from the American Psychiatric Associations manual, the DSM-IV.

The diagnosis of alcohol addiction is made when there is evidence of one or more of the following symptoms within a 12 month period:

  1. recurrent substance use resulting in the inability to function at school, work or home
  2. recurrent use of alcohol in unsafe or hazardous situations such as driving, operating heavy equipment, childcare
  3. recurrent alcohol related legal problems
  4. continued alcohol use despite persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems

There really is no clear snapshot for who is an alcoholic.  It is a very democratic disease: it cuts through all social classes, races, religions, ethnic groups and other demographics.  People vary in the ways they handle the problem such as denial, aggressive defense and secrecy but they are all different ways of not handling the same problem.  People stop in a store on the way home and down several “nips” or cans of beer.  They pour out their water and refill the bottle with vodka.  They hide alcohol in their cars in shopping bags.  They hide bottles in their houses in places only they know.  They buy it for “company” and then drink it themselves.  They host big parties and use that as an excuse to drink.  They go “ice fishing” or “ice drinking” as it is also known.  They add liquor to their coffee, their iced tea, their morning juice.  One of the best hiding places is to hang out with other alcoholics so that what they are doing is considered “normal” by the group at the bar, the restaurant, the VFW, the club house, the sportsmen’s club. When confronted, they lie to the person(s), they lie to themselves, they do whatever they have to do to defend the addiction and not deal with it.  They are addicts.  They need treatment and they do not want it.  They want to drink.

Next month we will talk about alcohol treatment and the next month we will explore how alcohol addiction impacts families.  Please consult your health care provider if you think you may have a dependence on or addiction to alcohol or other substances.