The recent Satyamev Jayate episode brought forward some questions that we tend to ignore about alcoholism. Addictions are dependent on external factors to feel a misplaced sense of control. It doesn’t matter what form the addiction is in.
Each addiction that takes you away from yourself is equally bad. Let that be gaming, sniffing glue, narcotics, smoking or drinking. The addiction begins in the first place because you want to escape your reality. What you get in return is a temporary sense of relief. What it takes from you is your life. Only you don’t realise it. Chronic alcoholism is a disease. However, unlike other diseases, it cannot be easily fixed by popping a pill. It can happen suddenly and doesn’t give you the impression that you’re out of control.
Adverse health effects of over-consumption
It’s not considered a disease by many.
The effects of alcoholism are far-reaching. Because of alcoholism, the alcoholic can suffer lot of health issues. It includes:
- poor nutrition,
- memory disorders,
- difficulty with balance and walking,
- liver disease (including cirrhosis and hepatitis),
- high blood pressure,
- muscle weakness (including the heart),
- heart rhythm disturbances,
- clotting disorders,
- decreased immunity to infections,
- gastrointestinal inflammation and irritation,
- acute and chronic problems with the pancreas,
- low blood sugar,
- high blood fat content,
- interference with reproductive fertility, erectile dysfunction in men
- increased risk of cancer of the liver, oesophagus, and breast,
- weakened bones,
- Sleep disturbances, anxiety, and depression.
In other words, the overall nervous systems, gastrointestinal system, brain, heart and liver as well as the reproductive system get affected.
Alcoholics have problems in their personal lives as well. They often have difficulties in marital and other relationships. Alcoholics can have anger issues which lead to domestic violence. There are also chances of child abuse or neglect. Alcoholics also have difficulty finding or keeping a job, show impaired school or work performance and are involved in legal problems such as driving while intoxicated causing destruction of life and property. An impaired sense of judgment can lead to breaking the law or stealing to support the habit. They lose the ability to judge between right and wrong. This affects the society at large.
Drug like effects
Alcohol is not a stimulant. It actually has a sedative outcome. It has narcotic effect on the controlling centres of the brain. Hence the words “alcohol helps you loosen your inhibitions”. Speech, thoughts, actions flow freely. It kind of helps one relax. This is the reason why most people drink. But for many, this effect is an escape. Alcohol allows them to forget about what problems they may be facing. It dulls their pain centre.
The composition of the brain chemistry has a part to play in turning someone into chronic alcoholics. Because of constant drinking, the composition gets altered to a great extent. Drinking becomes a necessity for alcoholics to feel in control. Alcoholics crave for their next drink just like drug addicts crave for their next fix.
In today’s world, social drinking is an acceptable norm. Alcoholic beverages served in parties act as an aid to conversations. It is often the individuals who use alcohol as a crutch.
Teenagers, for instance, experiment with alcohol without a second thought. The adverse effects of alcohol, like cigarettes, cannot be seen immediately. It adds to the “coolness” factor and they are accepted in their circles. But for troubled teenagers, alcohol can become a lifeline. Similarly, for adults, those who consume drinks to de-stress themselves, would often be seen drinking more alcohol to feel relaxed. This is one of the symptoms of an alcoholic – tolerance for alcohol increases and hence consumption increases to achieve the desired effect.
Why some people drink more than others
Interestingly, all who consume alcohol do not become alcoholics. Their individual environmental factors as well as their genetic make-up play a major role in this. If an individual already has unresolved issues relating to childhood, family or has experienced traumatic events, they may have a greater tendency to get hooked onto drinking as alcohol eases away the sense of self. Also, if they come from a background of alcohol abuse, chances of falling into similar pattern is high.
At the same time, there are individuals who indulge in binge drinking; they drink till they pass out. They do it for fun and live under the impression that this once in a while indulgence won’t harm them. But their system starts getting used to the alcohol. And the next time you’d require more alcohol to have fun. Binge drinking leads to higher tolerance levels which takes a toll on their health.
Like mentioned before, chronic alcoholics do not think they have a problem. But if you have tried to cut down on drinking unsuccessfully, or get annoyed when someone comments on your drinking habits, or you feel guilty about drinking or require to have another drink to “wake up” the next morning, you are on your way to becoming an alcoholic.
Kicking the bottle -
- Detoxification. Stop your alcohol drinking abruptly. But this requires assistance of medications to prevent effects of alcohol withdrawal. Detoxification has to be a monitored process for better results. One may get themselves enrolled to a detoxification centre. Chronic alcoholics shouldn’t be under the impression that they can start out by slowly reducing their intake. A gradual withdrawal from alcohol. If they could manage this on their own, they wouldn’t be alcoholics in the first place.
- Joining support groups. Detoxification is only the first step towards recovery. Temptations are available everywhere. The patient must have support to get through this addiction and stay away from the same. Support groups let the patient know that they are not alone in this. Sharing experiences help the patient to gain a better insight to their problem and how to fight it. Alcoholics Anonyms (AA) is one such group with its 12 step recovery program.
- Ask your loved ones to support you. If you are on the road to recovery, request your friends and family to help you stay away from alcohol. This would probably mean hosting get-togethers without alcoholic drinks. There is no need to test your will power when you have just started recovery. Avoiding a relapse is very important.
- Other methods to manage stress. If you had used alcohol to manage your stress, it is time to move on to other methods of managing stress. Some therapies include massage, meditation, hypnotherapy, yoga, and acupuncture.
- Psychotherapy is another medium to manage your problems. To use your life experiences as a reason for drinking alcohol, is not a reason good enough. You are only creating new problems for yourself. Recognise this and get the required help.
There’s nothing wrong in relaxing with a drink after a long day at work. But when that drink becomes the highlight of the day, you have a problem. So the next time you take a sip of that drink, ask yourself “Who’s in charge? You or the bottle?”